Listen to an AI reading out the first chapter of Extinction Pulse, book 1 of the Nightfall series of post apocalyptic sci-fi novels.
Extinction Pulse Chapter 1
Day 1: Glendale, CA.
Detective Elijah Wade glanced up at the colorful streaks of light dancing in the evening sky as he hit the back of a line of traffic. He pulled a cigarette out of its red packet, lit it with practiced ease, and leaned on the horn.
Time and again his eyes flicked upwards, squinting as his focus shifted from the blinding red and white lights of the traffic around him to the gentler, but more ominous hues looming over the towering city buildings. There was something about them that creeped him out. He ran his hand down the back of his neck, smoothing out the goosebumps.
He shifted his gaze back to the line of vehicles. Two hours before his flight and decades of experience in Glendale, CA traffic told him he wouldn’t make it. He’d spent all day at his desk poring over evidence sheets and witness statements, getting nowhere. And, because of that he’d left for the airport too late.
But he couldn’t miss the flight. His eighteen-year-old daughter was having heart surgery in New York, and he was waiting for a call with news from her mother. He touched the star pendant that hung around his neck. She’d given it to him ten years ago and wouldn’t know that he’d kept it on him every day since.
He shook his head, grunting with frustration. He was her father. He had to be there for the operation. But he was also a detective working a case — multiple homicide. More would follow if they didn’t catch the killer.
So, he’d said he’d arrive for when she woke up, and that promise was now sailing into the sunset to rot with all the others.
And what a sunset. Between the tower blocks, he could see a deep red spreading from the west, like blood staining cloth. Above it, the sky brooded orange as if the heavens were on fire.
His cell brought him back to earth.
“Lige, we’ve got him!”
He recognized his partner’s voice. “Who?”
“The serial killer – the Cleaner!”
Now he was all attention, though his eyes remained on the sky.
He heard Terry Nugent chuckle.
“You added those plates to the system, remember? We got lucky: patrol ran them on a mini-van and pulled him over. Double lucky, because it was Oscar. Twenty years’ experience — that guy’s got a nose for it.”
“Cut to the chase, brother.”
“Sorry. Oscar checked his driver’s I.D., and it was fake. As he was getting the perp out of the car, his partner found a black bag with blood-stained clothes in it. And they found his real I.D.”
“Jeez.” Wade felt that familiar sickness. The mix of triumph and disappointment when all their efforts to find the girl alive looked like they were in vain.
“But look, Lige, I’m only telling you because I knew you’d go all crazy on me if I didn’t. You get yourself on that plane — you need to be with Kelly.”
Wade’s hand hovered over the switch that would set off the berries and cherries.
“Was it one of the suspects?”
“No. Out of the blue. But Oscar’s sure it’s our man. Unless there’s two serial killers on the loose. Name’s Silas Lynch.”
“All that work and we were barking up the wrong tree. Where have you put him?”
“He’s in the tank. Oscar couldn’t get nothin’ out of him, so I’m heading there now. Says he wants his lawyer.”
“I bet he does.”
“Claims the blood is his. Says the girl ain’t dead. Hey, Lige. You seen the sky?”
The car to his left honked at him as Wade involuntarily tugged on the steering wheel. Was it possible? Becky Powell had been missing for over a week, the latest of a series of lost girls across the state, all of whom had eventually turned up dead — dumped in black bags on the side of the road. The chief had been forced to call in the help of LA’s homicide division, but if a Glendale patrol had caught the monster, then he was going to be damned if he’d let members of his former department question him. This was Elijah’s case.
“I’m coming in,” he said, cutting Terry off mid-protest. He liked his partner but didn’t trust him to get what they needed from this Lynch character, or to hold off Homicide once they learned of the arrest.
He flicked on his lights, tossed the half-finished smoke out the window, took a right and swung the car around, heading downtown and into the eye of the storm.
Glancing at his cell when it rang again, his stomach lurched.
“Lyndsey! Is Kelly okay?”
“She’s in recovery. The surgeon says the operation went well, but they won’t know for sure for a couple of days.”
“Thank God.” Well, that was at least one weight off his shoulders.
“Is your flight on time? I can come meet you—she’ll be kept under for a while.”
Wade paused, trying to come up with the right words as his eyes strayed to the star pendant that hung from his mirror.
“You’re not coming, are you?”
“Lyndsey, we’ve just arrested a suspected serial killer. We think he’s taken a local girl. She might be alive.”
“Jesus, Elijah! Your own daughter is fighting for her life! Your place is here! Don’t let her down again.”
He couldn’t find anything to say.
“Message received, you son of a b—”
The line went dead.
By the time he arrived at the department building, he had to push his way through a crowd of officers and bystanders, all looking up at the sky, ignoring the even more gaudy festive lights adorning the police station. He glanced up briefly. He’d seen the aurora australis once on a trip to southern Chile, but this beat that, hands down. The familiar green pulsing bands were there—brighter than he’d ever seen—but they’d been joined by every color in the visible spectrum. It was as if God had spilled his paints across the heavens.
And there was an eerie whistling sound in the still air.
He paused for a moment, caught between wonder and an unquantifiable feeling of dread. He had a vision, as the people stood looking up, of moths around a flame. There was a tension about the crowd. He didn’t like it at all.
He snapped out of it and turned to see Terry at the door.
“Who’s on the desk? Hey, you look like crap.”
“I’m okay, just beat. It’s Joe’s shift. Don’t worry, I’ve told him to slow walk it.”
Good. That was code for taking as long as possible to inform their Homicide partners. It ought to buy a couple of hours of interrogation time.
Wade ran past the public area and swiped his ID. No luck. Cursing, he waved at a figure on the other side who opened it manually, before half-running toward the holding pen.
“Ah want to see my lawyer.”
The ‘pen’ was a tiny cell made up of whitewashed cinder block on three sides and bars on the fourth. It was where they kept the most dangerous suspects.
A man stood, gripping the bars. “Ah said, Ah want my lawyer.”
The first thing Wade noticed was what a good-looking man Lynch was. The second thing was the dried blood under his fingernails.
“And Ah want to wash my hands.” There was a trace of the Mississippi about his accent.
Wade heard Terry’s Hush Puppies on the concrete floor. Then another voice called out. “Detective Nugent.”
“Hey, Sarge,” Terry responded, speaking into a doorway along the corridor.
“We could do with your help. Crowd control. Might be best if you put your uniform on. I can’t raise anyone on this piece of junk, and I need someone with brains and composure out there. That’s why I’m not sending Detective Wade.”
Nugent sighed, but acknowledged the sergeant, then glanced at Elijah before shrugging and heading off.
Wade leaned back to shout along the corridor. “Joe, I’m going to interview Lynch. Will you sit in with me?”
“No can do, Detective, sorry. We got a four-fifteen situation developing outside and I need every boot on the ground.” DeSantos’s bald head poked around the door frame.
“What’s going on out there?”
The sergeant shrugged. “I’m getting reports of fist fights and general aggravation. It’s something about the sky. Didn’t you see it when you came in?”
“Looks like an aurora. Spectacular, but I don’t see why that would cause trouble.”
“I don’t know. I’m calling in the cavalry, if I can get hold of them. Cell network is patchy. Hey, what’s that?”
The sound of running boots echoed along the corridor and Wade joined DeSantos as he jogged back to the door dividing the public and back-office areas.
“Sarge! We got trouble.”
DeSantos glanced at Wade, nodded, and then pulled the door open. A dozen people had piled into the outer area, and others were trying to get inside, pushing and shoving as the room filled with groans. Some people fell to the floor. Wade saw the clothes of one of them smoking, and the smell of… what was it? It reminded him of warm summer days. Barbeque? He swallowed his disgust as DeSantos pulled a young patrol officer behind the desk.
“What’s going on, Riley?”
“Radio not working. Me, Tubbs and Chen tried to hold the door, but… Sarge, I… I don’t feel great…”
Wade took Riley’s shoulders and opened the door to the back-office, pushing him through. “Get hold of CDU, okay?”
He turned back to stand beside the sergeant. “Help may be a while coming, Joe.”
DeSantos nodded as a Latina man pushed his way to the front.
“Hey, I’m burnin’ up, man! And I can’t see right. It’s like I got those lights floatin’ in front of my eyeballs. I need to go to ER, stat!”
“Stand back,” DeSantos said, then he raised his hand and yelled “Quiet!”
The people crowding into the station only noticed when Wade joined in. “Everyone out!” He took his 1911 and pointed it at the ceiling.
The room filled with cries of alarm and protest, but Wade simply pointed at the door. “Get out onto the sidewalk and then we’ll let you in one at a time. This isn’t Beirut!”
A patrol officer pushed the door open and stood back as people surged out, muttering to each other. But rather than waiting out there, they dispersed onto the streets. If Wade was any judge, more than half of them were looking for trouble. The last man to go called out, “I’m sick, you b—” before the officer slammed the door behind him.
“Jeez, what in hell’s name is going on?” Wade said, his daughter, wife and the suspected serial killer in the tank all forgotten as he peered through the toughened glass.
“Keep back,” the officer said. “There’s something bad going down. It’s like my blood’s made of liquid fire.”
Wade blinked at the man. “Jenkins, isn’t it? What happened out there?”
The young patrol officer wiped his forehead, and Wade half imagined the skin would come off with his hand it looked so gray and lifeless. “They started gathering as the sun went down. Those lights in the sky, they were amazing… And that sound. Like someone chanting…”
For a moment, Jenkins’s eyes glazed over, as if he’d been hypnotized.
“Then what, officer?”
“Oh, sorry. Some old woman started calling out, saying her eyes were burning. Then more and more of them. A couple — they held their hands up. They wanted God to lift them up to the sky. Man, it was… it was surre—”
Wade caught him as he slumped, dragging him across the floor to lean him against the wall.
Then Terry Nugent staggered through the door and Wade left the patrol officer to help his partner.
“Jeez, brother,” he said, kicking the front door shut behind him and helping him to a chair.
Wade kneeled beside his partner, but his eye was caught by the scene beyond as he looked through the glass of the station door at the sky. The colors had been bright before, but now they were livid, pulsing as if alive, and he imagined he could feel heat coming off them.
“Come on Terry, let’s get you out back.” He helped Nugent to his feet, draping his partner’s arms around his shoulder. He looked over at the sergeant. “Have you called an ambulance?”
“Lines aren’t working.”
Wade pulled the inner door open. “Then I don’t have any more answers, Joe. We’ll have to wait for the cavalry to arrive.”
“But what’s going on? What’s making them sick?”
“I don’t know, but it’s got something to do with those lights in the sky. My guess? Radiation. But I’m going to take Terry inside, find somewhere for him to rest up. Then we’ll get Jenkins.”
By the time Elijah was making his way back to the front desk, DeSantos was half-dragging the young police officer toward the open door.
“I don’t understand how he got so sick so fast,” the sergeant said. “I mean, if it was the lights, they’ve only been out for a couple of hours.”
Wade took Jenkins’s other arm. “I don’t know. Has he been on patrol today?”
“Yeah. Six hours street work.”
Grimacing, Wade helped the officer into a seat in the small office that served as kitchen and sick bay. He had a nasty feeling. A real nasty feeling.
“Rich, can you hear me?”
“When did you start feeling bad — was it before the lights appeared in the sky?”
The officer nodded. “Been creeping up on me all day. Figured I was… coming down with something…”
“What are you thinking?” DeSantos asked as he and Wade got to their feet.
“That whatever is causing the aurora has been doing it for hours without anyone noticing because it was daytime. Have you been out much today?”
The sergeant shook his head.
“Me neither. But Terry’s been working the cleaner case, and he’s got it bad.”
“You think it’s an attack? Nukes?”
“Can’t be ICBMs or we’d know it.”
“A dirty bomb?”
“Maybe, but that wouldn’t explain the lights. Look, Joe, try to get hold of anyone from headquarters, will you? I’m going to check on our prisoner.”
Wade left the sergeant, said some words of comfort to his partner and the police officer as they sat, slumped, in their chairs, and walked toward the tank.
Lynch was waiting for him.
“What’s going on? I’m still waiting for my lawyer, and I want to clean myself up.”
“You got no right to demand anything,” Wade said.
“I got every right. I know the law, and you can’t talk to me without my lawyer, unless you intend to charge me, in which case I’ll be takin’ the fifth until you do.”
Wade stabbed a finger at him. “Now you listen to me, you piece of filth. I haven’t got time to waste on scum like you right now, so just sit tight and we’ll get to you when we get to you. But if you want anything from me, you’ll tell me right now where Becky Powell is.”
“Filth?” Lynch sneered. “Fine words coming from you, Detective Wade. Your hands are dirtier than mine, by all accounts. And I never heard of Becky Powell.”
Wade swung away from the suspect. The man was too valuable to them for Wade to lose him to an accusation of police brutality. He marched along the corridor, boots echoing on the polished floor then, as he pulled on the door, a thought hit him between the eyes and sent a chill through his soul.
How did Lynch know his name?
And then the lights went out.