BY: STEVEN M. MOORE

The apocalypse kills billions—numbers so large that most survivors’ minds snap shut. Foes of the US have attacked with a bioengineered contagion that spreads around the world. One of only a few survivors, Penny Castro, ex-USN diver and LA County Sheriff’s Deputy, reacts differently. She fights back and creates a life for herself where death is the common denominator. On a forensic dive, she is interrupted. When she surfaces, she finds all her colleagues dead, so she has to battle starvation, thirst, and gangs of feral humans until she ends up in a USAF refugee camp. A post-apocalyptic thriller for our times, Penny’s adventures will entertain and shock you into asking, “Could this really happen?”

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Last Humans by Steven Moore, Penny Castro goes for a dive to recover a body for the sheriff’s department, and when she surfaces the whole world is dead. While she was under water, enemies of the US attacked with a biological weapon, spreading plague around the world. Penny is now one of a few survivors, struggling to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world. She becomes a nomad, moving from place to place to stay ahead of the gangs of feral humans and packs of feral dogs. Facing starvation, thirst, and extermination, she must create a life for herself in a world very different from the one she has always known.

Shocking and intense, this chilling tale will keep you glued to your seat, turning pages as fast as you can. You won’t be able to put it down.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Last Humans by Steven M. Moore is the story of Penny Castro, ex-US Navy diver and now a forensic diver for the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Penny is on a dive to recover a body when something goes wrong with the equipment. When she surfaces to find out what the problem is, everyone on the dive boat is dead. But that is just the beginning of the horror. Penny heads to shore because she can’t raise anyone in the sheriff’s department and finds, to her dismay, that everyone on land is dead too. Confused and horrified, Penny discovers later that a biological attack has been perpetrated on the US and it has spread worldwide. Now she must battle the elements, starvation, lack of water, feral dogs, and gangs of crazed humans who rape, plunder, and kill with abandon, even turning to cannibalism. How can she survive in this changed world alone?

The Last Humans is a chilling account of the best and worst of humankind in a world where law and order is a distant memory. Combining marvelous characters with nail-biting suspense, Moore has created a poignant and intense tale that you won’t soon forget.

PART 1

Survivor

“We are living on the brink of the apocalypse,

but the world is asleep.”

~ Joel C. Rosenberg

CHAPTER 1

The steel cable attached to the metal cage containing the body was no longer taut. I’d just removed some construction blocks that had kept the body on the ocean’s floor—snip, snip, with my wire cutters to free the body—and rolled it into the cage. Took pics of the “crime scene” before that, of course. Not hard to do. Instead of a spear gun for fishing, I carried an underwater camera mounted on a selfie stick on my back, the whole kit fitting into a slim holster nestled between my air tanks. Even had a light—didn’t need it on that dive. Also had to perform a few other CSI tasks too—not many, though, because forensics underwater was always limited.

Had tugged on that cable to tell the guys above me to haul up our victim. It should have resisted my tug, but it seemed to be broken. Sure ’nough. Could see the end floating down from its own weight toward me. What the hell? I thought. Wasn’t easy to shake your head underwater with a mask and mouthpiece, but I would have done so on land. Penny Castro, you’re seeing something new on this dive.

I’d felt something new too. A couple of muffled booms like a few USN destroyers doing target practice above me by firing salvos at a Channel Island, and the sea floor shaking enough to feel it in my finned feet. That was all before seeing the falling cable. Cause and effect? Had our little dive boat exploded above me? Sheriff’s personnel were targeted just like other cops, but targeting a department’s boat would be a first. Didn’t see anything else floating down, though.

George had picked me up at my apartment. My deputy friend gave me a wink as I tossed my duffel on the old patrol SUV’s backseat and then climbed into the passenger side. I was dressed modestly in a beach cover-up with my deputy’s badge pinned to it, but I’d left it open, revealing a skimpy bikini. No way would I wear a wetsuit all the way to the dive. His wife would understand. He knew that, so the wink was just him being a Latino.

I would have made a play for him, of course, if he weren’t a married man. Generally good-natured with a full head of hair and enough gray around the ears to be interesting, he had treated me well from day one when I joined the department. Old gruff Sheriff Hancock, not so much, but I’d come to respect him too. In general, all guys at the substation, wary at first to have a woman join their ranks—saw that in the navy too—came around as I earned my stripes. Helped that I could do things they couldn’t do. Also helped that what I did had only a peripheral nexus to their own work.

George took one call from Marge, our dispatcher. Her voice sounded like everyone’s sweet old grandmother, even with the com unit’s distortion. She’d been a deputy for years, but she had wanted to spend more time with her kids, so she became one of the huge department’s official voices on the airwaves, a job not without its own stress but with more regular hours. She’d grown up in Fresno but found employment in SoCal after receiving her degree in criminal justice. I loved the old Okie almost as much as I loved George. She was my West Coast mother. My East Coast birth mother was in a New Jersey facility for Alzheimer’s patients.

After talking to Marge, George was quiet as we drove along PCH toward Leo Carrillo State Park. I eyed him. Sure, the highway was busy and motorists were avoiding us like we carried a contagion—flashers on the top of a sheriff’s patrol vehicle and sirens were responsible—but his focus on the road after that wink was a bit suspicious.

You tried to help people who were your friends. “Anything wrong?” I said.

“Angela and me. We had a bit of a verbal battle. I left her crying.”

Knew his wife was expecting her third. Men! Sometimes they just don’t get it. “Want to talk about it?”

“She’s moody lately. She wanted a normal morning where we could snuggle and cuddle. I was willing until Marge called. Angela took maternity leave too soon, so she’s bored. And I have a job to do.”

“Cut her some slack, asshole. She’s the mother of your kids, and she loves you.”

He nodded. “I love her too. If I were rich, neither of us would work, and we’d both stay home and enjoy raising our kids together.”

“Aren’t rich, won’t be, so get beyond it. Buy her a bouquet on the way home tonight to patch things up.” I turned my attention toward the traffic too. “Marge didn’t tell me much, and she only confirmed the crime scene just now. What’s the story?”

“Fisherman reported seeing a body below his boat and informed the LA Sheriff’s Department. He’ll be waiting for us. Paul and Zeke are on the way too. We’ll question the fisherman there while waiting for Baldy and the boat.”

The dive boat, Wave Queen III, was my launch platform for ocean dives. In rivers, ponds, and lakes we used smaller crafts the SUVs could tow. The Queen could also launch a speedboat to go after perps who tried to escape. The US Coast Guard often helped in the latter or took over when circumstances called for it—mostly newsworthy chases for drug interdiction, gun running, and terrorist activity. Like the ATF or FBI, DHS agents didn’t receive too much love at the LA County Sheriff’s Department. I didn’t consider them publicity seekers, but some deputies did. I thought we just worked at different levels.

’Course, I might be prejudiced. Knew the prevailing opinion in the department, likely shared by the police, was a twist on Tip O’Neill’s quote—yeah, I’d studied US history— all real law enforcement was local. I understood the sentiment, but I was ex-navy, so I thought the feds had their place. Especially coast guard guys, who did so much and did it well.

***

I’d been under for twenty-plus minutes and had discovered the body almost at my 180-foot limit. Half-covered with sand and silt, the ocean had already begun its job of returning the vic’s body to its evolutionary home. Some fish had recovered from having an intruder in their midst, and those bold fellows swam around me, trying to figure things out too. Maybe they were around when the body was dumped?

Hadn’t believed much of the fisherman’s story when George and I arrived and we spoke to our “witness.” Guy looked a bit like an old rocker. Had he been smoking and communicating with Jerry Garcia? We watched moments later as he paced a bit and muttered to himself. Voice had been shaky. The fisherman seemed fishy.

Okay, he’d just seen a dead man. Okay, the water was clear enough and the bottom almost white sand. But seeing a body at that depth seemed a bit of a stretch—you’re looking where your cast goes, after all, not beneath your boat—but some light filters down even to about 600 feet. Not my business to distrust him, but I mentioned these doubts to George before the Queen arrived and we went out, and he had agreed to have others keep an eye on our “witness” while I did my shtick.

I had sat on the diving platform as the boat moved away from shore. Could see some of those water desalination plants north of our path, huge man-made Channel Islands, some still under construction, part of an expensive solution to the area’s drought problems. They lost some priority in the monsoons and good snow cover in the mountains for a few years, but they were coming back, hence the plants’ construction. Government becoming proactive for a change. The previous long drought had taught everyone a few lessons.

I wondered during my dive: Do functioning desalination platforms increase water clarity? I’d have thought what they discharged likely made it worse. Probably an eco-discussion somewhere online I should read. The state was crawling with eco-activists. More power to them as long as they kept out of my way. My support stopped when they became eco-terrorists, though. Putting spikes in trees so chainsaws would recoil and kill and maim loggers was unconscionable.

Understood enough of the new technology to think desalination plants might do some good, but also thought the jury was still out, especially when it came to the ocean environment. Sucking in salt water and using tech magic to remove the salt and produce fresh water seemed okay, but discharging super salty water back into the sea might have unforeseen consequences. Yeah, I understand: the Pacific has a lot of water. Still…

Solar and wind were supposed to solve the energy problem too—energy experts had been saying that for years—but usage just increased faster than power production. Water consumption was similar. The state was between a rock and a hard place. I thought the overall solution might be moving a lot of people somewhere else—maybe Alaska. If they paid me a lot, I might go. Would encourage Angela and George to do the same. Must be hard to provide for a large family these days—the economy was like a roller coaster.

The victim on the sea bottom didn’t care about any of that, of course. And now I was faced with a problem. Decisions, decisions. Penny, you’re alone on a dive just doing your job, stuck with a broken cable and a wrinkled, gray, and water-logged stiff, and there’s no one around to tell you what to do. I made up my mind without over-thinking it, though. Left the body there on the bottom—figured that in the cage he wasn’t going anywhere—and headed for the surface. Passed the descending cable on the way up. Its end looked shredded like it had snapped. Metal strands trailed behind it.

***

Our dive boat had drifted away from my dive point. Or, maybe I swam sidewise a bit? Fifty yards was nothing for me, even in full scuba gear. If Olympic swimmers had fins, they’d halve their times. I took peeks to see if I could figure out why the cable had snapped. Couldn’t see anything obvious or anyone standing on the boat who looked baffled—no one standing, period. Swam to it and swung onto the diving platform.

“Baldy?” I called out after removing my mask and mouthpiece. “George?”

Baldy was the deputy who piloted Wave Queen III when we had to go into the Pacific, which was often enough to keep me employed and him with a sizeable gut because the secret beer compartment was usually well stocked. We also teamed up on dives in inland waterways—those dives were often more difficult because of the terrain and dirty, weed-clogged water. I found it amazing how many murderers think weighing a body in deep water or tossing a murder weapon there will hide their nefarious deeds. Not if Penny can help it!

George was more friend now than coworker; Angela and he had invited me to some family functions. Their kids called me Tia Penny. I wasn’t anybody’s real aunt. My SOB brother Roberto had never married as far as I knew. Didn’t think he had any kids either, but I knew he fooled around.

I shed my tanks, fins, and mask, slipped out of the wet suit, and went exploring. Found the two deputies soon enough. They were both dead. Stunned for a moment, I stared into the distance at the islands and desalination platforms, tears in my eyes. Wiped them away with the back of my hand, just putting more salt into my eyes, and began examining bodies.

Their bloated red faces looked like they’d stuck their heads in a blast furnace—too red for an hour’s exposure to sun and sea breeze. They had already sported nice tans and wore Dodgers caps too. California’s the Golden State for many reasons.

Their tongues were swollen. Did they suffocate from that? Nostrils were pinched and the pupils in staring eyes dilated. I thought of allergies. What’d they have for lunch and where? Couldn’t have been the same place. Weird if they had the same allergies too. Maybe food poisoning? The pupils in their staring eyes were dilated like they’d just visited the ophthalmologist, but whites were red-veined. I closed the eyes. If the ship’s deck was a crime scene, I’d already mucked it up anyway.

I decided further examination was a job for the ME and not the CSU. Climbed stairs to the wheelhouse. Handled the Queen before, so I’d have to take her in.

“Well, shit!” I said to a few gulls circling in the sky. “Fuck the body. Fuck the dive. Fuck this job. I’m heading for shore.”

By the time I arrived there, I didn’t have any answers to my questions. And there were more questions on the way.

© 2019 by Steven M. Moore

Scott Dyson:

“If Dr. Asimov had written a post-apocalyptic novel, it might read something like The Last Humans by Steven M. Moore. It is packed with action scenes, and at the same time is thoughtful and introspective. Readers will find themselves caring deeply about Penny Castro and the members of the family that she creates from the wreckage of society after a biological attack devastates the world.” ~ Scott Dyson, author of The Inn