0530 hrs, The Pines. July 5th.
Walter Truesdale was late, that in and of itself wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t like he had time clock to punch, but the later he got started the later he would have to work. And today was a day he wanted to be off early. He had a date with Jennifer of the incredibly long legs tonight and he wanted to have time to get ready.
Dating these days was a lot different than it had once been, for this evening for example, he had gotten his hands on a bottle of pre dead wine, he had managed to trade with Carl Drummond for some venison steaks and gathered produce from his own garden so that he could take her on a picnic down by the small lake overlooked by some of the new homes being built in what had been a motor court. I even managed to get Jack fry to accept an IOU so I could get one of the batteries to run a DVD player. As long as the weather held, it was going to be a great evening.
I only wish there was a movie theater or something to take her too, He thought idly as he stepped out the door of his small house. House was what I used to have, all 1500 square feet, this place is 350 square feet if I am lucky, he thought some what amused by how little it really mattered to him. It was his place that’s all that mattered, and it was large enough to two people, which was good because if this date went as well or better than the first two, he would be inviting her over for dinner one fine night.
Who knew maybe in a few months there might be some places to take a date. There were rumors that Alison Haupt was talking about opening a restaurant, and Walt would be one of the first in line, he had eaten her cooking a couple of times and damn if she didn’t know her way around a kitchen.
Even Graham Spencer was all fired up, after talking with that guy from the zone, about opening a theater. Apparently they had a full troupe of actors and a theater back where McCaffrey came from. Graham was already asking around for people who might want to act in a play. Assuming they could find decent actors it might be kind of nice to take a date to a play. Movies would be better, but with out power to spare and movie studios it wasn’t going to be happening any time soon.
He hurried out of his house and down the road, enjoying cool air, and smell of dew laden grass. A light fog hung over the fields around the pond and a touch of fire was spreading across the eastern horizon.
A glorious start to a day that promised to end well, he thought with a smile as he reached the shop. Nothing more than one of those prefab steel workshops that had been erected behind the new almost finished main shop. Now all I have to do is get the last parts on the new steam engine installed, then fire it up and test it. which will take most of the day. But when its finished, we will be able to power all kinds of things, he thought excitedly.
He lit the lantern that hung beside the door and stepped inside, enjoying the smell of metal and oil that had become as familiar as a lover to him. He only had a second to notice the smashed steam engine before something moved off to one side and then pain flared and his world went dark.
From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey
There are times I really hate this job, and times I really love it. The Pines and the Township were places that I loved it. Wonderland Enclave as we are calling it is one of those times I hate it.
Clyde Baker is not the monster that rumor has it, but he is an asshole. We were dropped off around 0700hrs by one of the Townships boat and trekked a mile to the Gate.
Where I announced us and asked to speak with Baker, three hours later they send out a skinny hatched faced guy, who had one of those patented fake smiles. He promptly informed Hercules Secord that there were proper ways for the Pines to Deliver messages to the Enclave and that we should follow those rules and then and only then would Baker listen to the message.
Those rules Hercules later told me were set up when the enclaves had banded together to fight the raiders. Messengers were suppose to go to a specific location for each enclave in this case a old Gas station about two miles away, once the people manning the station knew there was a message they would send a runner to the Enclave and Baker would send his reply.
So guess what we did, we hiked over to the gas Station, where five men were sitting around reading smut magazines. They are outlawed inside the Wonderland, men and I presume some women can only view and read what they want outside the tightly run enclave. we told them we had a message and off a runner went, while we waited for a reply we were asked to promise not to say a word about their literary choices.
They liked to talk, so I was able to find out that yes Baker and his clowns are strict religious types, but not the blood soaked butchers of rumor. Apparently, there is a lot of discontent inside Wonderland, but those who really dislike it sneak out instead of overthrowing Baker who sounds like a Megalomaniac.
It’s not my place to suggest that if they are that unhappy they should remove the leadership who is the problem. But I suspect if they do join the Zone there will end up being problems, who knows its not my decision but god help them if they try to push Jared and the Zones Council.
Anyway, Baker showed up an hour later with three of his yes men. He is unassuming to look at, thick brown hair, a plain face with a vapid smile painted on. But there was look of cold calculation in his eyes, he is the kind of man who considers every angle.
I let Hercules give him the full message and I be damned if he didn’t try to lay out conditions on his even considering to attend a summit. Mostly concessions he wanted from the Pines like a couple of Steam engines and at least one electric car.
He never asked who I or the others were, just acted like we were servants to be ignored while he talked with Hercules. You do not know how badly I wanted to kick his ass. Did I mention I suck at being a diplomat?
He only acknowledged my presence when Hercules told him I represented a new group who would be attending the Summit. Which started a whole new round of questions, of which I gave only short mostly true responses too. My personal opinion, allow wonderland into the zone only on the condition that they drown Baker and his staff. Maybe kick him a few times first.
Anyway, most of the damn day was wasted by the time we finished. So we head to Astoria tomorrow morning. Oh and get this, due to security and possible corruption of their immortal souls we have to stay outside the Enclave. okay he didn’t add the corruption part, but it was there between the lines when he spoke. I would have given him Stephanie’s cat if I had thought the cat would hurt him and Stephanie wouldn’t kill me.
Side note.. The damn cat came along, she carried it in her pack, its fat fuzzy head stickin out and looking around as she walked. That Cat is not Natural, I bet it used to live in Wonderland.
Baker did give us, but that I mean me, he ignored the others, details about life inside wonderland, half of what he said was completely different from what the men at the station had told us. I think I know who I believe. Anyway, it’s a pretty strange place to live no matter which story you believe.
July 6th, 0800hrs Pastor Wells homes, The Pines.
Keith Wells sat at his desk looking out the small window at his neatly tended garden Bees droned from bloom to bloom, Orange tomato’s heavy and ripe hung from the vines that wove up through lattice walls. Bright yellow squash, dark green mini melons, beans of all colors hung on small bushes, it was a festival of colors lovingly tended. If only I could tend to my congregation so well, he thought.
Since his return two day ago the situation in the Pines had seemed to be calming down. Partly he suspected that had to do with Jeff houses funeral. In fact he would have bet money that Jeff’s anti tech friends would have kept their downs, stayed out of sight of the publics eye. They just hadn’t kept it up, Pastor Wells thought sadly, the news had already spread across the Pines about the destruction of the Steam engine and the assault on Walt Truesdale. The man had been badly beaten after being knocked unconscious and Gerald wasn’t sure that he would pull through.
Wells said yet another heartfelt prayer towards the Heavens for Walts recovery. No one deserved that kind of beating, and only a coward would assault an unconscious man. He had no doubt that Ben Ramo was angry. Very angry. It was his security they had gotten past and Wells didn’t doubt that Heads were rolling over at the Guard HQ.
It was inevitable that a person or group would assume that God was speaking directly to them and no one else. he had worried over something like that happening for some time now, not that he didn’t believe that God spoke to man. God spoke in the heart, he was the comforting voice in the dark of the mind, the voice of compassion and mercy.
But not this, Wells thought Never this. That Lord is the problem, I do not presume to question your ways, I am sure you have your reasons but I would like to know why your messages cant be a little be clearer to us lowly mortal types.
A brief smile flickered across his face, next I will be asking for just a peek at the secrets of the universe, maybe something simple like where is Jimmy Hoffa’s body. The smile faded as he considered again what Virgil Griffin and Emily Turner had told him last night.
Both avowed anti technology people, they had been shocked at what Jeff House had done and had stepped away from violence trusting that gods plan would be revealed in time. Most of the Luddites, as Tucker called, them had stepped back. But not all, oh no not all.
And if the ones still willing to commit violence were having those dark dreams as Virgil and Emily claimed, Then Wells had to take seriously the concept that something dark, something evil was behind Jeff House’s action and that it wanted more blood, and destruction what had happened to Walt and the Steam engine was just the beginning..
What had shaken him to the core, made him believe the fantastical story was both Virgil and Emily had mentioned something about not just their dreams but what others had told them, about a creature that stalked them through dark hallways and cluttered rooms. Something that wore a bowler hat and had the teeth of a shark.. .
He wasn’t sure of anything at this point, He had heard others talk about weird dreams that were more real than reality during the dark days of the Dead and there had been a few since. But this?
But am I rejecting this out of hand because of fear. Fear that it might be true and that we, I have no way to combat it. these are good men and women, being led astray, manipulated to se….. his thoughts stumbled to a stop as the word Manipulated conjured up the memory of a conversation in the Township Guest house about young Henry being warned by Nana about being ridden by a Boo hag. His blood cooled as he considered that conversation and its implications.
During the trip to the Township, he had talked several times with McCaffrey and Stephanie about what they thought had caused the dead to rise. It was a topic that every one talked about at one time or another. McCaffrey had mentioned something they called alternately bowler hat or the Dream walker.
Once a living man, it stalked peoples dreams, trying to twist them, turn them against others and had supposedly done so, several times. ‘it’s a war Pastor, at least that’s what we believe, fought in our dreams and here in the world. The darks only goal was to destroy us and it wanted us to help it win so it attacked everything we hold dear. Like hope, love, and compassion. But particularly it wants hope to wither and die because then we give up” Stephanie had said.
McCaffrey had nodded at that then added ‘ the Dead may have fallen over but he war with the Dark has only gone cold.’ What if they were right?
What can you do to stop it Keith, stand over each persons bed in the Pines and Brandish a cross in one hand and a bible in the other like some post apocalyptic Van Helsing and demand that the bad dreams stop. His lips quirked again but the humor didn’t touch his troubled eyes.
How do you convince them that their dreams might have a darker source than they want to believe? It angered him that the Dark, the term was much more fitting, would latch on to peoples desire to know not just how but why the dead had risen, their need for comfort. Would latch on to their very faith and turn something glorious like belief and faith into a weakness. Now the real question Keith, how long has it been going on. Since creation, I would guess. So, if all of this is true, what do I do about it?
What every good Pastor is supposed to do, offer guidance, counseling tempered with compassion, after that Free will, will decide what happens. He thought as he turned back to his desk and the open bible, he had a sermon to write.
1000hrs, Secured storage building, The Pines.
“what the hell do you mean explosives are missing” Ben Ramo asked as he entered the building used to store munitions and mil grade explosives.. “more to the damn point, how in the hell did any one get past the guards to steal ten pounds of C-4.” He demanded.
“We think inside help.”
“no really you think” Ramo snarled, the fear he felt at what the anti tech morons could do with ten pounds of C-4 twisted his stomach.
“Every guard that has been on duty for the last 24 hours is being questioned right now,.” Garza assured Raimo. “in addition we are questioning every person who was signed into the storage building. I’m pretty sure we can figure out who the guilty party inside of a day ”
“Really, how? Promise them sex with their favorite starlet, or maybe bring some one back from the dead.” Ben asked angrily then lifted a hand as he shook his head. . “Sorry, I know you will do the best that you can.”
Ben walked slowly through the storage building, but spotted nothing that screamed clue.
“There is no sign that the door was forced?” Garza pointed out.
“they might have been able to get a copy of the key” Ben commented as he squatted and examined the case that had held the missing explosives. “Lets hope the SOB’s blow themselves up trying to build a bomb.” He lifted the padlock and noted faint scratches around the key slot, which might have been from a key from the every two month inspection of the supplies. “
“Amen” Garza said
“How did we find out?” Ben asked studying the floor as if he hoped to spot tracks in the dust.
“Since you were busy, I thought that with all that was going on around here it might be wise to do another inventory. As per SOP, I had two others with me during the inspection, as soon as I discovered that case was empty I called out additional men to search the area for any signs of the intruders and sent a runner to fetch you.” Garza stated.
“Any clue on when they might have been stolen.” Ben asked.
“Not a clue, though if we use Jeff Houses attack on Tucker as the beginning of this whole mess, it occurred in the last two days. I suspect it might have happened as long ago as two weeks.”
“This well and truly sucks” Ben remarked as he rose to his feet and wiped his hands together. “I will go inform the council, I should only be gone an hour. Keep a lid on this for as long as you can, this might cause a panic.” Ben said then turned and headed for the door. the one person he wasn’t going to tell about this was Tucker. Not till he was sure, that Tucker could handle the news.
July 7th, 0900hrs Tuckers Study, The Pines.
“You look like crap” Ben Ramo said walking into Tuckers study with out a knock on the door. Tucker sat with is feet propped up on his desk, wearing the same rumpled clothes he had worn yesterday. His hair looked dirty and it was obvious he hadnt slept in a while.
“and you look like the pissboy” Tucker said trying to find the ghost of his sense of humor, it was only a half hearted attempt, but quoting Mel Brooks movies usually worked. That ghost of humor was kicked out when the he thought about the entire scene ‘your majesty the peasants are revolting’. No peasants here but the people were revolting against everything that he stood for, everything that Pines had accomplished.
And his fear of some one else being shot, or killed for something he had done was crippling him. he shook his head trying to keep the memory away but it came anyway, Lourdes falling to the floor, blood on her bodice, eyes wide.
All that would be bad enough but news of the attack on Walt, had reached him early and now he felt responsibility for what had happened to Walt.
“Damn it Tucker stop it” Ben said seeing the look on Tuckers face. “Your supposed to a be leader, well Leaders are never liked by every one and sometimes others pay the price for your actions its part of being a leader.”
Tucker wanted to argue that Ben didn’t understand, but that was a lie Ramo did understand, the very nature of Bens Profession guaranteed that some of the men Ben led would die, had died. No matter how well he planned, or how hard he tried to keep them safe. Men were going to die the minute he had to fight.
“Get up and get a bath, and if you don’t move, I will have a squad in here to strip you down and scrub you with a wire brush.” Ben said standing over him, arms crossed over his chest, looking down at Tucker like an irate father. “if you don’t believe me, just keep sitting there” Ben warned him.
“I need to warm up some water” Tucker said, his voice husky.
“Its all ready for you, I took the liberty of having a tub filled for you before I came in and a squad of men are waiting downstairs in case you give me any problems and I picked Gay men to boot, so they will enjoy it. “ Ben said with an evil smile.
Usually Tucker would have replied with some comment like, ‘ you’re an ass or you wouldn’t dare, or even some pithy semi sexual remark, but not today he just rose to his feet and headed for the door.
“Your taking all the fun out of giving you crap, you know that” Ben said half tempted to bring the squad in just to get a laugh even if it was his own.
Tucker wasn’t surprised to see that Ben was telling the truth, steam rose from the water in the tub and he suddenly felt grimy and filthy just looking at the water. He stripped off his clothes and climbed into the water, a sigh escaping his lips as he sank down to his neck into the water.
After a moment, he started bathing, while Ben got out clothes for him to wear. “you know this is going to get old after a while . and if I have to dress you, I swear I will bring in that squad.” Ben said as he dumped the clean clothes in a chair. “Pastor Wells, wants you to come to by and talk with him today. Something about a Sermon he wants you to attend. And the council has a meeting scheduled for this afternoon that you need to attend.”
“I’m busy” Tucker said.
“Yes you will be, because I will have my men carry you to the Sermon and the Meeting if you wont walk there on your own power.” Ben warned him. “And don’t pull the I am Co president crap, because I will ignore it and the council will too when I make you get out of this building.”
“Bloody asshole” Tucker muttered, but his heart wasn’t in it.
“Exactly,” Ben agreed with a weak grin.
As he bathed he began to feel a little better, not a lot, and it did nothing to stop the memories of Lourdes being shot from popping up in his mind, but his mind seemed to clear a little the cleaner he became.
“I am not a leader Ben, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I need to step down and let someone else take over for me.”
“Sure just hand the burden off to some one else! Run away”
“Its not like that Ben”
“Really, prove it, lay out your reasoning for me. If you can do it with out bringing up the shooting and Lourdes that is, or the attack on Walt.
You did good enough for people to want you to be Co president for Life Waylon, the Pines has gone a long ways to recovering thanks to you and Chapman. You two set up our system of government, you organized the defense and the treaty that was responsible for driving off the raiders. So how exactly are you such a bad leader?” Ben asked passing a new wash cloth to Tucker, who glared up at him.
“Damn it Ben, I …” Tucker said then stopped himself.
“Tucker, Reality slapped you in the face buddy. You didn’t want to believe that any one here in the Pines would resort to violence to make a point. Well they did, and your not responsible for what he did, or what his friends have done or might yet do. You didn’t shove Lourdes into the bullet and you didn’t beg Jeff to shoot her.
You shouldered responsibility for the Pines, five years ago Tucker and you’ve done a good job but your not finished either. Unless of course you want to quit and let some one else deal with this mess” Ben stated staring down at Tucker.
Tucker glared at Ben, “that’s not fair Ben”
“Really, did I miss the memo about life becoming fair.” Ben asked in that don’t be a total idiot tone of voice. “Of course its not fair. but what your doing isn’t the answer either, avoiding the problem and hope no one else gets hurt. Well Walt got hurt and your doing nothing didn’t stop it.”
Tucker slid down under the water to rinse the soap from his hair, when he rose back up, he looked more thoughtful. “How many world leaders back in the day, used to take baths and talk to their advisers.” He mused avoiding commenting on Bens observation. .
“LBJ, used to leave the door open to the bath room while taking a crap and talking to his staff, the man was a arrogant, abusive pig from what all that came out later about him.” Ben supplied.
“Thank you, just what I needed to hear.” Tucker said actually smiling, it was a weak smile and was gone in a second but it was an improvement. “so this sermon, whats it about?.”
“I have no idea, I’m sure that he will explain that at your meeting. I do think he wants you to attend the service to show people your still alive and to show you at least respect their beliefs enough to attend.” Ben replied with out smiling, Tucker was caving much more gracefully than he had expected. .
“And make me a Target” Tucker muttered.
“You’re a target here, Waylon. If they want to come after you they will, at home, out there, in the wilds where ever you might be. so Man up, and move on.”
“How’s Lourdes? And Walt?” Tucker asked changing the subject.
“ Lourdes is the same from what Gerald says. Walt is in bad shape, some broken bones, and internal bleeding. Gerald is going to operate here shortly to see if he can locate where the blood is coming from and see if he can close it off. Oh, the Messenger I sent to Harbor Town returned this morning; Brinn is sending some one to help us medically.” Ben replied watching Tuckers reaction; he looked upset, but not full of the helpless melancholy of the last couple of days.
“So Gerald is going to leave as soon as the help geta here. I take it?” Tucker said.
“He is” Ben said. Tucker held out a hand causing Ben to look around for a towel.
“I’m not sure I like this idea” Ben said scooping up a fringed towel that looked like a fluffy Persian rug and passing it to Tucker, who rose and began to dry off.
“Neither do I, but there is nothing we can do about it” Tucker commented as he stepped out of the tub and knotted the towel around his waist.
“Feeling better” Ben asked as Tucker padded barefoot across the room to the clothes that Ben had gotten out.
“Some, thanks. I guess its time I stopped hiding and got on with things. But Ill be honest Ben I don’t know how long I can. Its eating at me.” Tucker said as he started to dress.
“It will Tucker, but if you face it head on, it will get a little easier every day.” Ben promised, he had his own ghosts and dealing with them was an ongoing process.
“It had better or your going to have to sit and talk with me through a lot more bathes” Tucker stated the ghost of a smile appearing. Ben faked a shudder.
“lets hope you get better, the last thing we need is to hear terms like the Bath council being tossed around.” Ben said with a chuckle.
“yeah, but face it the All wet Policy makers has a ring to it” Tucker said his humor finally attempting to broach the surface. “wash cloth and Towel diplomacy, vetoing bad bills will be called tossing out the bathwater.”
Ben groaned in dismay. “I think I liked you better quiet and moping”
“you would” Tucker said as he turned to face Ben, his boots in his hand. “for the record, Thank you Ben.” He said softly.
“your welcome Waylon” Ben replied.
1000hrs, Greenwood Dr.
William, Will to his friends, Franklin looked back at the squad of Grim faced men in Battle dress who followed him. there were only two insignias on their uniforms, one was an SF badge, the other was an American flag. He felt a smile tug at his lips as he looked at that flag, it was funny how seeing men not only wearing a patch with the flag, but calling themselves Americans could make him feel so good.
Some of the people in Harbor Town were already calling it the American Zone, But these men just called it the Zone .
“You okay” The Sergeant in charge of the security detail asked, the man was maybe twenty seven or so with a battered looking Crossbow strapped to his pack.
it was a back up in case the Matte black military weapon the man carried failed, Will supposed.
“Fine thanks” Will replied. “just getting used to all of this.”
“I know the feeling” Sergeant Kyle Brock said with a laugh. “to go from struggling to survive, to having food, some power and a few little luxuries is one hell of a change.”
“yes it is” Will agreed. Harbor Town was starting to come out of its malaise now as people were finally starting to adjust to the new life well enough to start having goals and hope, of course contact with others and the cargo that was starting to move was the major driving force.
Just a month ago, Will had been running with Salingers people, he was a nurse practitioner by trade or had been back when there had been jobs. There hadn’t been much talk about the past in Salinger’s group, they had been to busy trying to survive day to day even after the dead had finally stopped moving.
there were times he felt guilt over having not done enough to help others survive, but lets be honest with yourself now will, There was nothing you could have done, you had no medicines, no tools, no machines to help nothing. You did what you could which was very little. And the cruelest part for him was Salinger return with news that they finally had a home, then having to sit with the man for two days watching him die slowly and painfully from infection that had been the price Salinger had to pay for getting them a new home. He felt a odd stir of pride in what Salinger had given his life for. The man had died a hero as far as Will was concerned.
But that feeling there was nothing he could do to help, that life wasn’t going to get any better, that there was no real hope and that all he left was to survive for no other reason than to survive had vanished when they had entered harbor town.
Erin Brinns people had taken them in like long lost brothers and sisters. Oh there was still some tension between the survivors of Salingers group and Harbor Town.
But Will didn’t blame them for it either, to many problems, to many lies lay between them. It didn’t matter that they had both been played, there was no point in hanging on to the past. The only solution was to move forward past that crap and make a new life. Which is exactly why you volunteered to help Sandy and how you find yourself heading off to the Pines to help there.
He had trained as a Trauma Nurse, after a couple of years he had decided to become a Nurse practitioner as a stepping-stone to becoming a full fledged doctor. He had been going to school almost continuously since he had graduated high school and was well on his way to his goals when the undead had pretty much ended every dream he’d had.
Then I gave up, and stopped caring. Oh he could blame it on barely eating, sleeping in rubble, living generally like an animal but he didn’t, he refused to. it was his cross to bear and he would do it.
But those days are over with, he thought with a shake of his head, if there is one thing I have learned is that a man can recover from anything and I plan on making up for every life that I didn’t save over the last six years.
He walked on in silence feeling anxious to get to the Pines, it was almost a hour later when they caught up with the squad that had been scouting the route ahead. They were waiting for Will and the others just in sight of the Pines Walls and found himself smiling at the sight.
“ Well Doc, looks like your almost to your new Temporary home” Brock said from behind him. “Lets move that little ways left and get you settled in.”
Will felt himself grow warm with pride at the Nickname, he could almost taste his new life just waiting and it was going to start right here.
Ben Ramo had more things to worry about then greeting new arrivals. But it had been the only way to make sure that Tucker showed up. he stood at the Gates watching twelve men in Battle escort a single man inside the Pines. Five Ten, with sandy blond hair, the man looked like he was recovering from Malnourishment.
“Will Franklin, I was sent to help the Pines out” Will said looking at the gathering of men and women hand half extended ready to shake and if no one steps forward I am going to feel like an idiot. He thought then sighed silently with relief as a man, oddly dressed in 1900’s style clothing and knee high boots stepped forward.
“Waylon Tucker, Co President, and Welcome to the Pines” he said smiling warmly. There was something in his eyes though, Will thought. Fear maybe. He couldn’t be sure and it didn’t matter at the moment. he let the thought go. Wills tension levels lowered appreciably as they shook hands “this is Ben Ramo, our National Guard Commander, Christopher Chapman my Co president,” Tucker paused his eyes losing focus for a moment as he caught himself looking for Lourdes to introduce her, then he shook his head and finished introducing the others. “I hate to rush this, but we have two patients that really need some one to look out, Gerald the man who has been treating them will fill you in on whats wrong, what he has done and get you settled in at the clinic.” Tucker said as Will shook hands with the government of the Pines.
“If you don’t mind we can talk as we ride over to the clinic” Tucker said gesturing at the oddest looking four wheeled cart Will had ever seen. “its electric” Tucker explained leading Will over to the contraption.
Ben made sure that a security detail escorted Tucker and Doctor, then turned to the face the Escort party that had come with the Doc.
He had already noticed the SF badges, subdued, and American flags on their shoulders and felt a wave of nostalgia. After Stephanies little display, he wasn’t as quick to anger over seeing those badges, not to mention that there was something about these men that screamed military and it wasn’t because of their weapons and full battle rattle.
“if you men will follow me, I have a place you can rest and get something hot to eat.” He said facing the man who wore the rank of Sergeant First class. “SFC..”
“Brock” the man supplied with a half smile.
“SFc Brock if there’s anything you need, just let me know.” Ben said.
“a hot bath, some hot food and a hot woman would suit most of us just fine” Brock said flashing a boyish grin at Ben. “but we can forgo the hot women, a hot bath would be close to heaven at this point”
“Speak for your self Sarge” A squat blunt faced Spec 4 called out, “I’m too young to forgo any chance at a woman.”
“Specmeyer a chance is as close as you ever get to a hot woman.” another soldier said as the others laughed.
“Forgive my men, we’ve been out in the wilds a little to long” Brock told Ben. “Id like you to meet ODA 561, 5th Special forces late of Fort Campbell, deployed out of Fort Stone on the Isle of Palms.” Brock said.
“Fort Stone? Never heard of it.” Ben said puzzled. There was no military base on the Isle of Palms that he knew of.
“that’s because it didn’t exist till about three years ago. We built it from the ground up.” Brock replied.
“I have to ask, where in the hell did you guys come from” Ben asked. “I honestly thought the Army had been pretty much wiped out.”
“ When everything went down, we got orders to establish isolated FOB’s , read as on top of mountains and anywhere else its almost impossible to get to with out a hard climb or a helicopter. The A teams were sent out to try and locate survivors and teach them survival and combat skills anything to help American civilians survive. of course finding survivors was harder than we thought, but we found them, not a lot and scattered all over Hells back forty but we found them.
We lost contact with the government after while, and with most of the Other FBO’s and Teams but then “ he quickly explained how Eric Stone had found his Brother and how things had just snowballed from there. “…So once the dead were no longer an issue, we sent our remaining Chinooks down to Robin Sage and rounded up every surviving trainer, volunteer and trainees we could find in two weeks, there were a lot more than you might have assumed and are rebuilding the SF. Not to mention the fact that quite a few Active duty soldiers joined the party so we have an army and even some of the navy these days.”
“I be damned” Ben muttered, not even sure how to describe how he felt at hearing that news.
“If it makes you feel better, till now we haven’t come across any intact National Guard units.”
“not surprised most of them died trying to hold the tide back, We might not have been professionals but we damned sure gave it our best.”
“Don’t run yourselves down, you people did a professional job in my opinion. In the Finest traditions of the Citizen soldiers.” Brock said. “so how about you show us to those quarters and our hot baths, after that we can do some serious drinking and swap outrageous lies about our past battles” Brock smiled broadly at Ben who laughed.
“that sounds like a plan, I will have my second in command show you over, I will join you later that will give me time to come up with a real whopper of a story to share with you then.” Ben said regretfully, he had an investigation to get back to.
as soon as the new arrivals were gone Ben hurried over to the command post he had set up in the council building. “any news” He asked Simon Findly who was sitting at a table going through papers.
“We think we have a lead, Herman Coterie might have been involved with stealing those explosives.” Simon said, rubbing at his dark rimmed eyes.
“I want two squads over to pick him up and search his place right now.” Ben said.
“Sir, I think we need to ask the council to issue a warrant, “ Simon said grudgingly. “at some point we are going to need to establish a real court system I guess, but for now if we are going to claim to have the moral high ground…” His voice trailed off.
“your right Simon thanks, I will go see Chris Chapman right not and get the ball rolling on a warrant and I will bring up your suggestion about a real court system while I am there.” Ben said shaking his head. No on in those stupid end of the world movies back before the dead rose had ever had to face rebuilding society, any society outside of a paranoids wet dream of power grabs and free cheetos and hand jobs.
We’ve never had to deal with something like this before now, a few assaults, a couple of drunks, even a wife battering but nothing like this. It would be nice not to have to keep playing cop, he thought as he strode out of the room.
From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey
July 8th, Astoria Enclave
I’ve spent a lot of time talking with both Gideon Snow And Lt. Colonel Nathan Bethany, to say that Gideon Snow is not excited about the summit is like saying a kid isn’t excited about Christmas morning.
Despite their differences, I suspect that Gideon and Franklin Coates will end up getting along just fine. Don’t get me wrong, Gideon is a capitalist with a large C, but he has also spent six years acting as the civilian leader for these people. Bethany is the last of the Guard Command Staff, and has six hundred men under his command. And I finally got as much of the whole story as possible.
Apparently there towards the end the Government, activated some long standing contingency plan called Case Sapphire, it’s original conception had been looking into dealing with something like an asteroid strike or a catastrophic war such as a mutual exchange of Nukes. The first part of the plan had been to establish Enclaves on every major island along the eastern sea board to facilitate, rescue and recovering programs as well as to provide a safe place to Evac civilians to a list of designated top secret facilities and bases. It makes me think about the FEMA camps that the paranoids used to scream about, now I wonder if those places had been designed and built for Case Sapphire or something like it. Regardless Bethany had no idea where the evacuees had been taken so it’s a moot point.
What does matter is that Bethany knows that they got at least one Enclave set up and stocked on St. Augustine, Wallops Island, which was an island on the coast of Virginia, used by the Navy and NASA. It seems the Navy and FEMA got some civilians and a few tons of supplies to the island during the Chaos and were still alive and kicking as of five year ago. The place was used to launch rockets and had a tertiary NASA flight control center there and of course Navy facilities what ever those might be.
Bethany knows Star Island had been designated an Enclave, its a small island that has a resort and conference center on it, but the first and last thing he heard was that they only had five hundred people there, they had been trying to get more survivors onto the island but things had been going down hill pretty fast in the area and then communications were lost. the Island is up by Maine and can only be reached by boat.
I wrote down at the end of this journal entry every location that Bethany knew had been planned to have an Enclave. As far as Bethany knew, only Hilton head and four other islands had actually had Enclaves set up before things went straight to hell and communications had been lost.
There were plans to set up almost eighty of the Enclaves on the various islands, and then enclaves were to be set up on in Key cities to facilitate operations and rebuilding. But things went down hill to fast and by the time the Government really had a clue on what was going on and how to deal with it, it was pretty much to late to do anything other than to bug out to safe locations and try again. That part apparently didn’t go so well, since we haven’t seen any Government Forces other than that prick Bedford and his pet delta force guys, okay I guess I should mention the forces in Mount Weather too. But they were just as cut off as every one else. so till further Notice the Zone is all that’s left of an organized united America and I’m sure that some would argue that too.
Anyway, Snow is sending off his own messengers to the Pines, Harbor Town and the Township, hoping to get the summit started in as soon as possible. He doesn’t seem to care for Baker, no one else does either which I am sure will cause problems at the summit but that is none of my business.
The reason the Astoria was chosen and not another resort was the Astoria had been designed green, there is a rain catchment system, a geo thermal water system and solar panels installed here as well as really good insulation and other features. And its more than large enough to hold the four thousand people who still survive here. I was told they lost a few panels to the Hurricane, but know where they can find more to replaced what was lost.
Now here is something interesting, apparently amongst the Survivors here are several very bright and formerly well to do folks, including one Stephen Wade, who had been behind an aquaponic farming start up venture, he had made a billion off it in the first year. The man designed and built the first system him self and has already gotten a small scale one built here at the Astoria.
There is also a a guy Named Harmon Crabtree, nix ascot, who is an engineer and apparently made a small fortune back in the pre dead days doing contract work.
And … ready for this.. there are three Doctors, the kind of doctors you used to hear about in the news, the top paid kind. Just their knowledge alone will go along ways to helping us rebuild the Medical field. There is enough Talent on this island to almost guarantee a recovery here, assuming we can secure the mainland side of the bridge for teams to start salvaging materials and equipment not available here on the island.
Ryan and Garrett haven’t reported in for two days, I’m starting to worry. As badly as I want to head back to the Pines tomorrow. I think its my duty to try and find out what happened to them before I head back. Besides, Stephanie and that damn cat will probably kill me if I don’t go looking for her husband and his best friend.
Stupid cat sounds like a freaking buzzsaw when its around her, or she is petting it. where are the undead when you need them.
1400 hrs, The Pines Clinic
Tucker sat at his desk, trying to concentrate on the delicate clockwork phoenix but it was hard. He leaned back in his chair and gazed at the graceful looking device and wished life was as easy to repair as an automaton.
It would be so easy if I could just replace myself with gears, pulleys and steam pistons. Shed my fear, my anxiety but I cant. I guess what really bothers me the most, is not just the shooting but how helpless I felt, I like to think of myself as brave but I had to face my own cowardice when Jeff shot me. A brave man would have stayed on his feet and yanked Lourdes out of the line of fire or even threw himself in front of her. Not me I just went down and laid there bleeding.
I know that Ben would say that’s being stupid. Maybe it is but that’s how I feel and I cant just sit here pretending to be better. God that’s even harder to do than just sitting around staring at the walls.
He stopped pacing and looked out the window, where two carts loaded with fertilizer were being hauled past by men who had just six years ago, lived and worked in a society that had relied on motors to do drudge work like that. he felt the old familiar urge to build things that would make life better. But how do I move past this, how….. his thoughts trailed off as he saw Lourdes being shot again, there was only one way and that was to go face her. He had avoided it, not wanting to see her lying in that bed close to death and as pale as one of the undead. Man up Ben had told him, and Brent was right. I have to do this.
He dressed quickly and headed outside, refusing to use his electric cart today he was going to walk. He ignored the security detail that fell in around him. Ben had insisted on posting men to guard the studio and Tucker when he left the building and Tucker was not going to argue with him about security again.
It didn’t take long to reach the clinic, being outside under the cool blue sky and the rich smell of growing life and the warm kiss of sunlight on his face helped him feel more centered and alive.
He nodded to Will who sat at a desk reading a book as Tucker passed into the back . Will lifted a hand in greeting and asked him to keep his visit short.
Tucker strode down the hallway lit only by the light from a small window set high in the wall at end of the hall and stopped in front of the door to Lourdes room. Well open the damn thing. he told himself as he stood there staring at the door like it was the entry into hell itself. I have to see her, he told himself. I have to face her, face the situation or it will eat me alive.
He reached for the knob then paused his hand still outstretched fingers inches from the door handle. “just do it” he said aloud forcing his hand to close on the knob and turn it.
He had no idea if any one else in the world would feel the same trepidation he felt and he didn’t care. Never in his life had he felt like he was the one responsible for violence and another persons injuries it was a hard thing to deal with. The door swung open and he made himself step in side.
Lourdes lay on the bed, dark hair spread across her pillow. A saline bag hung from a stand dripping solution down the tube that was inserted into her arm. She looked so frail, he thought walking slowly over to stand at the edge of her bed. He gazed down at her for a moment thinking how weak and vulnerable she appeared. She hadnt deserved this, no one deserved this, he thought sadly. No one but the kind of people who think lashing out is the solution to their problems, he thought feeling the first stir of anger deep down where it longed to uncurl and push aside the regret and sadness he felt at seeing such a vibrant, good woman laid low.
“I’m sorry” he said reaching out and gently taking her hand. “I never saw any of this coming, I really didn’t. I should have, but I didn’t” He said wiping at the corner of his eye. “I really thought that… well it doesn’t matter. It took you getting hurt for me to finally see reality for what it is, not what I want it to be.”
“asshole” he blinked rapidly unsure he had actually heard the thready almost whispered word. He looked down, his eyebrows arched in surprise as her eyes fluttered open. “hurt” she said.
Tucker started down at her, joy pushing its way past all the other emotions. He felt tears well up and started to bend to sweep her up in his arms and hug her tightly then made himself stop. “Doc” He called out as he clutched her hand tightly. “DOC”
“Stop…yelling” she got out her eyes starting to close again.
“Don’t you dare go back to sleep” Tucker said, afraid that she would never open her eyes again.
“sweepy” she got out. Sounding like a weak little girl.
“Lourdes, Chris needs to see you” Tucker said hoping that would get her to focus.
“Chris?” she asked. “is… he .. here?”
“he is on his way” Tucker lied.
“Goo..d” she said smiling weakly. The smile slipped from her lips and her eyes started to close again.
“Come on woman, stay with me” Tucker said desperately.
Behind him the door opened and Will stepped into the room, “ What is .. ahh I see she is awake” Will said stepping up beside Tucker. “now that her blood pressure is up she should be able to remain awake.”
“low BP, that’s all this was.”
“I suspect it was a combination of shock, then low blood pressure. Assuming no other complications I feel she will recover” Will said with a smile. “your Vet saved her life to be perfectly Honest.”
“ He did more than I did” Tucker’s voice was soft and guilt laden..
“shut up” Lourdes whispered her voice sounding stronger as her eyes fixed on him. .
Will handed Tucker a cup with a straw sticking up from the lid. “here help me out, let her get a little water. slow, small sips. Sorry we are out of ice chips so this will have to do, either that or we could use a turkey baseter to squirt small amounts into her mouth.”
Tucker turned to face the man, and saw the smile and assumed the man was joking. Actually, Tucker vastly preferred to assume he was joking.
“Barring unforeseen complications, I feel she will recover.” Will said as he moved around the bed to the other side where he checked his patients vitals.
“Yes like infections” Will replied with a slight shrug. “I’ve already started cultures to make Penicillin so that threat will be lower in the future. Gerald used antibac soap and creams on his hands and a Sterilizer on his tools to cut the risks and there isn’t any sign of infection, so far at any rate.”
Tucker managed to smile at Lourdes as she sipped from the straw “hear that you should be up and around in no time giving me crap again.” he decided to ignore the last five words for his own peace of mind.
“That’s enough water for the moment” Will said.
“you said you were making cultures of penicillin? Where did you learn to do that?” Tucker asked.
“The Book the Zone provided,” Will explained as he helped Lourdes get comfortable. “ I assumed the Pines was given one as well.”
Tucker looked sheepish as he nodded “we were, I only skimmed through it. I had forgotten that was in there”
“you’ve had a lot on your mind” Will said, “how is your wound doing?”
“ I have to watch the way I bend and move to keep the pain down, its healing is really all I can say.”
“any loss of feeling in your fingers or on your arm.”
“I have a numbness and tingling in two of my fingers, but nothing that affects me.”
“Good, Gerald wrote down that he was worried there might be some nerve damage, but if you can still use them I don’t see any real problem.” Will said as he smiled down at Lourdes. “you two are lucky your attacker wasn’t a better shot.”
Tucker bobbed his head in acknowledgement and smiled down at Lourdes his emotions finally settling down to a manageable level as he continued to hold her hand.
1500 hrs, Grace Methodist church, Sea Pines Plantation.
Herman stood at the window gazing out at the ruined buildings across the street, not wanting to look at the device behind him, where Amy Stout and Jason Karig were working. He couldn’t say anything to stop them not any longer. Their crisis of faith had solidified into fervent extremism when they had started to have the same dreams as Jeff had, and nothing Herman said would convince them to consider another way.
His own beliefs in the dangers of technology had not waned but he found himself slowly agreeing with Pastor Wells that it wasn’t Technology itself that was dangerous but the people who relied on it.
The explosives that Jason had stolen were not in and of themselves evil or planned on killing any one. But men like Jason who used them, men so wrapped up in the though they were doing gods work, or part of some grand higher cause were more than capable of doing evil in the pursuit of good or killing any one who got in their way shrugging off any collateral deaths as part of Gods plan.
Technology did not abuse people, people abused technology, it was that simple. So what are you going to do about it Herman? He asked himself. If Jason or Amy even thinks you’ve lost your way they will do something to stop you. Absently he combed his fingers through his blond hair, eyes narrowed in thought.
He almost felt relief as he spotted a patrol coming down the road, “Patrol” he called out. Let them search this old church, please God. He prayed. They were all supposed to be working a salvage today, but rarely was anything said about stopping to pray in one of the old churches they had restored.
Jason and Amy quickly gathering up tools and the book they were using as an instruction manual and moved all if it and the device into the gap below the Stage, replaced the cover then placed the Altar back over the cover. As soon as the device was hidden they knelt at the base of the steps to the stage, hands clasped together in an attitude of prayer.
Herman frowned unhappily but said nothing as he and Sam took their places and began to pray. Minutes ticked past, and Herman was just starting to think that the patrol had passed on by, when the front doors opened with a squeal and men entered, boots thumping on the floor as they strode in.
The patrol stopped half way down the aisle, waiting respectfully till Jason called out amen and the small group rose.
I wonder if they have discovered the missing explosives? Herman thought as he got to his feet.
“Sorry Sergeant, we wanted to have a quick word with the Lord before we got to work” Jason said smiling broadly.
“that’s fine, but with all that’s going on and the Scarred ones having been seen again. You might want to stick with the Salvage team, safety in numbers and all that” the brown haired national Guard Sergeant said.
“The lord will protect us” Jason said, then smiled again. “but he also helps those who help themselves so we will try and stay with the salvage team from now on” He and Amy started walking up the aisle.
Herman smiled at the men praying it didn’t reflect the curdled fear that lay like a lump in the pit of his stomach. For a heart beat he almost told the Guards men about the bomb, but Sam was right behind him and he knew if he said one word that he wouldn’t be the only one to die here, Jason and Amy were already past the guards and would open fire on them in an instant. God help me out here, he prayed as he headed for the door.
If God answered Herman didn’t hear it, and a moment later he was stepping out into the bright sunshine of a beautiful summer day. “Lets go” Jason said his eyes fixed on Herman as if he suspected what Herman had almost done. Herman nodded and together the four of them started down the road. the final work on the device would have to wait a couple of days just to keep from drawing any more attention to the church and its hiding place.
July 9th 0900hrs.
Tucker sat in the back of the room listening as the council finished deliberating about the change in the Summit schedule that Gideon Snow had asked for. It had surprised him that Snow had responded so quickly, and even more surprising that the Council had acted on the message just as fast.
Finding out that Snow had established a Messenger relay had inspired Chapman to do the same thing so that messages could be passed far more quickly between Enclaves in the future. Just wait till the roads are clear and we have running vehicles again, Tucker thought. then passing messages will take no time at all.
He wasn’t surprised when they voted to approve the change in Dates and he was even less surprised that he had been chosen to represent the Pines at the Summit. It had been his idea after all. Ben would be going as the commander of the guard detail that would be providing security leaving Master Sergeant Garza to run things in his absence.
Ben couldn’t be happy about having to leave the search for the missing explosives, but Garza had the newly approved warrants in hand and could be counted on to do a exemplary job in Raimo’s absence.
He would miss Pastor Wells Sermon after all, but at least it was for official business and not because he was locked in his room in a depressive funk.
He rose to his feet as the Council began to deliberate the forming of a court system. Chapman would vote Tuckers Proxy vote on the issue since he would be gone by the time the council had worked out a system and formalized it for a vote. It would take at least a week to hammer out a plan, and they still had the currency issue to start working on as well.
He made his way outside and took a deep breath of fresh air staring up at the clear blue sky where a gull wheeled slowly overhead. Time to get packing, he told himself as his security detail fell in around him.
1000 hrs, Skull Creek marina
Allen paced around inside the boat storage building, trying to project a casual air and suspecting that he was failing. Pacing didn’t help of course, but the news that at least six of his men had vanished while scouting to the north had him worried.
The North end of the island, the Hilton head plantation was supposed to be empty of people. Had the scouts just deserted, had they stumbled across a patrol from the Astoria Enclave or had they deserted?
Desertion was probably far more likely but he didn’t like surprises especially not now when the bulk of his raiders would be arriving today or tomorrow and the attack on Harbor town was set to occur tonight.
This was his one shot at revenge and he didn’t want to lose it, not now. He stopped at the table where a map of the island had been spread out and studied it once more. To be honest he had looked at it so much he had it memorized.
I still have to decide what to do with the prisoners, he thought. his scout teams had already stumbled across almost forty people scattered around their areas of operation. None of them belonged to any Enclave. Like his family they had been locked out and forgotten not important enough to taken in and protected and fed.
His mind toyed with ideas, but the one that he liked was to offer them food and a chance to join his own group and get revenge on the Enclaves for the suffering they had gone through. and he was more than aware of how every extra body gave him more men and power in this loose alliance and a better chance to survive the betrayals he expected to come hot and heavy the moment they achieved their common goals, if not a little before that.
His taking prisoners wasn’t popular with the firebrands, but then little he did that didn’t involve fighting, loot and sex was popular. Well they aren’t here because you need friends, Allen told himself. Don’t you boys worry, I will give you exactly what you want, I will feed you to the grinder so I don’t have to worry about you later.
Stop worrying, he chided himself. What will be will be, all you can do is roll with the punches and stick to the plan. He glanced at his watch, the attack on harbor town would probably start tonight, assuming the rest of his forces arrived when he thought they would he would be able to give them a day to rest up before they went after Astoria. Three days no more than four and we will be inside the Astoria Enclave.
He smiled coldly his fear and worry about what might have happened to the missing men swept away by the fire of revenge.
IF he had known anything about the stories of what haunted Hilton head Plantation not even the thought of revenge would have dispelled the worry he had felt, and the fear would only have grown.
Some where to the north inside a semi ruined building, a fire flickered guttering low, dark shapes clustered close around it. the only sound was the popping and crackling of the fire and the sound of eating. A large bone completed stripped of flesh was tossed into a pile, knocking a bloody boot loose that tumbled to the ground where it lay unnoticed.