The Last Bastion of the Living by Rhiannon Frater
Publication date: June 12th 2012
Genres: Adult, Horror, Science Fiction
The Bastion was humanity’s last hope against the fearsome undead creatures known as the Inferi Scourge. A fortified city with a high wall, surrounded by lush land rich with all the resources needed to survive, protected by high mountain summits, and a massive gate to secure the only pass into the valley, the Bastion became the last stronghold of the living on earth. But one fateful day, the gate failed and the Inferi Scourge destroyed the human settlements outside the walls and trapped the survivors inside the city. Now decades later, the last remaining humans are struggling to survive in a dying city as resources and hope dwindle.
Vanguard Maria Martinez has lived her whole life within the towering walls of steel. She yearns for a life away from the overcrowded streets, rolling blackouts, and food shortages, but there is no hope for anyone as long as the Inferi Scourge howl outside the high walls. Her only refuge from the daily grind is in the arms of her lover, Dwayne Reichardt, an officer in the Bastion Constabulary. Both are highly-decorated veterans of the last disastrous push against the Inferi Scourge. Their secret affair is her only happiness.
Then one day Maria is summoned to meet with a mysterious representative from the Science Warfare Division and is offered the opportunity to finally destroy the Inferi Scourge in the valley and close the gate. The rewards of success are great, but she will have to sacrifice everything, possibly even her life, to accomplish the ultimate goal of securing the future of humanity and saving it from extinction.
A massive shockwave rippled through the perimeter wall, tossing soldiers off their feet and onto the catwalk, or over the wall into the Scourge horde below as one of the mobile units twisted around in one of the deeper craters and wrenched another unit completely about. The torsion between the two units sent another shudder through the perimeter wall and Maria clung to the catwalk as Ryan fell on top of her. Together, they rode the catwalk to the ground, tumbling into the mud. Maria immediately scrambled to her feet and gasped.
The steel mesh had torn free of one of the units and the Scourge were shoving their bodies through the frayed opening. The squads closest to the breach opened fire. The mesh wall shimmered as it wavered under the onslaught of the undead. The mobile units continued on their designated course to their next position, ripping another hole in the mesh wall.
“Fall back!” someone ordered as the Inferi Scourge shoved through the widening openings.
Ryan grabbed Maria’s shoulder and dragged her toward a section where the fallen catwalks formed a barrier along with some of the unpacked supply units. Lindsey scrambled to follow. The squads formed a line, shooting at the Scourge coming through the gap. For several agonizing minutes, they were successful at holding the howling creatures back.
“Tiltrotors are en route!” a voice intoned in her helmet.
Sweat poured down Maria’s face as she reloaded. Ryan lobbed several grenades toward the breach as Lindsey fired over Maria’s head.
“About that date…” Ryan said, grinning despite the fear in his eyes.
Maria slid around him into a better position and aimed at a Scourge trying to scale the fallen edge of the wall. “You’re supposed to give me a reason to live, dumb ass,” she groused.
Another soldier landed in the mud beside her and helped her obliterate the Scourge trying to scramble through another widening tear in the wall.
“This was a stupid plan!” she shouted.
“It seemed like a good one when we planned it,” the soldier answered.
It took her a full second to realize it was Chief Defender Dwayne Reichardt.
“Sorry, sir,” she said quickly.
He shook his head, still firing. “Let’s just live through this!”
The Scourge pushed further into the perimeter. Maria knew now it was only a matter of minutes before they were all dead. She tried not to hear the screams of the soldiers overcome by the Inferi Scourge. The Scourge tore at them, ripping at their body armor, trying to reach flesh so they could bite and infect. One soldier was pulled free of a group of Scourge, his armor still intact as his comrades gunned down the creatures that had attacked him.
Vanguard Stillson lobbed a grenade at a catwalk’s treads and the explosion toppled it over onto the Inferi Scourge.
They were losing ground swiftly and chaos ruled. No one was listening to orders barked over the feed anymore, but were just trying to survive. The perimeter wall attached to the city wall still stood intact with the catwalks still secured to it. Many soldiers clambered onto it, trying to escape the ground. Maria, Ryan, Lindsey and the Chief Defender started to fall back, providing cover to those trying to reach higher ground.
Rappelling ropes started to fall from the high wall. Frantic soldiers gripped the lines and climbed upward, their muddy boots slipping against the steel surface.
Maria tripped, falling on her ass, and the Chief Defender hauled her up swiftly. The Scourge were everywhere now, smashing through the clusters of soldiers, howling. Maria fired point blank into the face of one as it charged her. The Chief Defender knocked another one back with the butt of his rifle. Together they charged through the mud toward the city wall.
Ryan and Lindsey were just ahead of them and nearing the remaining catwalks when Maria saw a flash of light. A massive force slammed into her and sent her sprawling through the air. Blackness surged up to claim her, and she fought not to drown in it. Pulling herself onto her elbows, her body felt numb and her helmet was gone. Beside her, the Chief Defender struggled to get up. His armor was punctured with shrapnel and blood poured through the tears.
Lifting her weapon, Maria aimed toward the creatures trying to climb over the corpses of Scourge and soldiers the grenade blast had killed. Pulling the trigger, she felt the rifle pulsing as it hurtled bullets into the bodies of the rampaging dead.
“Tiltrotor!” Ryan’s voice screamed near her.
She kept firing, but flicked her gaze to one side to see Ryan carrying a badly-wounded Lindsey over one broad shoulder. The churning wind pulled her gaze up to the aircraft slowly descending over the fray. Beside her, the Chief Defender fell over onto his side, unable to get up. Maria grabbed his arm and shifted her body under it. Rising to her knees, she pulled him upright. He screamed. Together, they managed to get to their feet as Maria fired at the Scourge drawing closer.
Vanguard Stillson’s huge body moved through the crowd of Inferi Scourge like a rampaging elephant, tossing them left and right, shooting a few as he went. His helmet was gone and his armor was smoldering. Maria could see the shrapnel from the grenade had sliced away parts of his face. Yet Stillson kept fighting. The Scourge were so intent on him, Ryan and the others were able to skirt past the mob and head toward the aircraft.
Casting one last look at Stillson, Maria gasped as a Scourge grabbed the man’s thick neck and bit into his cheek, infecting him. Usually the Scourge abandoned a victim successfully infected with the virus and moved on to another, but this one kept tearing at Stillson, chewing and appearing to devour his flesh.
Reichardt stumbled, forcing Maria’s attention away from Stillson’s demise. Pulling her superior up to his feet again, she continued to fire at any Scourge rushing them. Around her, other soldiers continued to fall, fighting the undead to their last breath.
“Keep moving, Chief Defender,” she urged him. “I don’t want to die today.”
“Neither do I, and my name is Dwayne,” he said crisply, his voice filled with pain and determination.
“Nice to meet you, Maria. Now, let’s not die,” Dwayne said
“Is that an order?” Maria kicked over a Scourge and shot it in the face.
“Without a doubt,” Dwayne answered with a grin.
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Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, including the As the World Dies zombie trilogy (Tor), as well as independent works such as The Last Bastion of the Living (declared the #1 Zombie Release of 2012 by Explorations Fantasy Blog and the #1 Zombie Novel of the Decade by B&N Book Blog), and other horror novels. Her next novel for Tor, Dead Spots, will be published in 2014. She was born and raised a Texan and presently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and furry children (a.k.a pets). She loves scary movies, sci-fi and horror shows, playing video games, cooking, dyeing her hair weird colors, and shopping for Betsey Johnson purses and shoes.
You can find her online at:
Email: rhiannonfrater at gmail.com
The Badass Heroine
I’m not going to lie. I need to be honest with you from the start. The honest to God truth of the matter is that I hate/despise/loathe a lot female characters that fall under the “badass” heroine banner. I often have to suppress the deep, dark desire to give them a roundhouse kick to the face.
Well, if I could actually manage to do a roundhouse kick. I’m not that limber.
Though there are plenty of amazing, strong female characters that I absolutely love with all my heart, there are a smorgasbord of female characters that really rub me the wrong way. The reason for this is simple. Badass has been confused with women who are just plain bitchy, self-centered, and mean.
I didn’t really realize how ingrained the bitchy heroine had become in entertainment until I saw a script for one of my books. The heroine uttered a lot of really mean, nasty comments in the first few pages of the script and I was stunned by how awful she came across. I spoke to the scriptwriter about the added dialog and he answered, “Oh, I added that because I wanted her to come across as a strong.”
“Uh, strong doesn’t mean bitchy,” I said carefully. To my surprise, and relief, he agreed and those lines were removed.
But after that event, I realized that was exactly why some heroines really rub me the wrong way. To make a woman appear strong, a lot of writers have defaulted to making her really bitchy, egocentric, and often just plain mean. It hurts me whenever I see this trope in a book, movie, or TV show. A woman doesn’t have to be a bitch to be strong or badass.
A badass female character should be someone you can see as a friend. Someone you love, cheer for, and believe in. You understand they’re flawed, but that’s okay. As they keep working hard to overcome all their obstacles and achieve a happy ending, you’re invested in their journey.
Even when my heroines have something exceptional about them like Vanguard Maria Martinez in THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING, they exist realistically in their circumstances. Maria’s military training, intelligence, and determination to accomplish her mission all contribute to her badass factor. But the power that compels her to do extraordinary things isn’t her anger at an unfair world, but her love for a man who loves and respects her. Maria not only serves The Bastion, but her own heart. She struggles with fear, suffers loss, and knows that she may lose her life in the battle against the Inferi Scourge. But victory means freedom from the undead hordes and the ability to build her life with Dwayne, the man who sees beyond her hard veneer to the women she is inside.
My goal when writing my strong female protagonists is to create realistic women who have strengths and flaws just like everyone else does. I don’t create perfect people that have nothing bad happen to them. Or women that all the men want to be with and all other women hate. I create women who could live in our own world very easily. They could be your neighbor, friend, or family member.
In the end, I think Maria Martinez is a badass heroine because her strength doesn’t come from being bitchy, but from being a woman willing to do her very best to overcame the most terrible odds.