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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I had hoped for more in the way of reader conversations...but it is what it is. This is Book 2 of the World of the Chernyi series. I'll post up a couple of chapters to see what kind of feedback I can get from the work.

As you read this, I'd like to hear from you.



The bleeping of the telephone broke his concentration. William shook his head then, back in the real world, he picked up the instrument. "IceCube, station 5, bouncing bad badger Bill from the Bronx speaking." His boss didn't appreciate the offbeat sense of humor, but then, his boss wasn't freezing his ass off squatting in a pit out on the South Pole ice sheet either.

"What the Hell? Who's this? This is Jameson, IAEA, here at FermiLab!"

Cringing, "Holy crap" thought William, "the boss's boss!" Clearing his throat, William tried again - "IceCube station maintenance, William Badger speaking."

"What in the Hell are you doing, running a simulation? The detector board has gone crazy. It s showing a massive flood of anti-neuterinos!"

Jameson sounded plenty ****ed! "I don't know what you are talking about, Sir. I'm only working on the trouble ticket the AMANDA folks called in on string 16. They were thinking it was funky, because they are getting indications of oddball bursts of mu-meson anti-neutrinos. The folks at ANTARES couldn't collaborate the bursts. The IceCube board was pretty quiet when I left a couple of hours ago. String 16 is the closest to the AMANDA array, if it was out of spec..."

Before William could finish his sentence, Jameson exploded. "Damn it, Badger! I know full well about those facilities. I asked what the hell you were doing!"

William lost his patience. Jameson was a royal pain at best, this was just too much. "I'll tell what I'm doing, you old fart. I'm fifteen feet deep in a sensor string access pit checking the connections and freezing my damn ass off! String 16 is off line, it can't be doing anything!" He slammed the phone down, as much as you could slam a field telephone.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered, "everyone thinks they're a friggin expert." He was fuming now. "Just what the hell did he think I was doing?" That did give the frustrated maintenance man pause... "Detector board going crazy?"

William kept his job, likely only because of the uproar that ran rampart in the following week. Every one of the anti-neutrino detectors on the planet was going crazy. Only the IceCube array could pinpoint a source. If you could call the general direction of Galactic North...pinpoint.

* * * * * *

"Lieutenant, I don't care if you have to drive down there and pick him up at gunpoint. Damnit! Just get his ass up here! Do you understand? This isn't a drill or a conference, so adapt, improvise, overcome and get Ing here. The sooner, the better for you." General Bruce slammed the telephone down. Gathering the boffins and science fiction writers on his list had become a nightmare. "Not like the days of High Frontier," he thought, "then you had to use security to keep them away." How in the Hell a bunch of writers and oddball physics types would help anything wasn't his call. He'd been ordered to get them to the Pentagon's E ring 'as fast as humanly possible'. Presidential Directive fast. It would have helped if the boss had given him a why.

* * * * * *

"Baker, Delta, Four. Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey, this is Kilowatt London Zero..." he called again and again. Chang had cut out mid-sentence. Joe hoped that Chang's radio transmitter hadn't crapped out again, he needed the QSL card from that sector to get his Worked All China award. He needn't have worried about the award, Chang's radio was gone. As was Chang. And China.

* * * * * *

Bouncing around in the cockpit of the Osprey was not a fun ride. The rest of the crew in the back of Pedro Six Two had it a lot worse. Major Bill Anderson had plenty of hours in bad weather, just not a lot in this kind of wicked weather. Looking for a farmhouse just added to the tension. The last hour had been hell and the weather was getting close to where it would force him into calling off the mission for aircrew safety.

Keying the intercom, he said, "Gopher, this is Scooter. You guys okay back there?"

The voice that came back was strained. "Ya, we'll live through it. Both Ace and the Ell Tee are strapped in good, whether or not they can actually see anything..." Before he could finish, Jimmy 'Wildman' Williams, the co-pilot, cut in. "Got it!"

How Wildman spotted the light on the ground didn't matter. He called vectors to Bill and even as the aircraft pitched wildly, he kept the light right on the nose. "Gopher, Scooter. Call me a landing spot, anything clear is good. The closer the better."

"Got the light, Scooter. Turn starboard, then start your flare. Looks like a big ass pasture just below us. I'll call it at twenty meters, then it's yours to land or go" The roaring noise behind Gopher's voice made it plain he'd dropped the rear cargo hatch on the massive V/STOL aircraft and was now looking under the aircraft. He was hanging halfway outside, held only by his body harness and the monkey strap fastened to the deck.

Keeping the aircraft's nose into the wind, Bill managed to use the rotor wash generated by the massive turbine engines to clear away the snow, down to the ground. "Thank god," he thought, "it's cold enough that secondary ingestion of turbine exhaust gases isn't an issue." Flicking on the powerful wing-mounted Infrared floodlights, he could see though his Night Observation Device that the ground was flat on his side, and Wildman quickly confirmed the same for the opposite side.

On the all-station push Bill called out "Someone drag Gopher's ass back inside, I'm setting it down." The only reply was some grunting, then seconds later "Clear." The flight engineer, Robert Teaman, must have been kneeling next to Gopher to have pulled him in so quickly.

Seconds after the wheels grounded, the Pararescue crew blew past the far side of the starboard nacelle. Clearly, they'd seen the farmhouse. Bill could only hope it was the one that the police dispatcher had told them held their patient. Bill cut the engines back to idle and called the police dispatcher on the Victor Civil Defense net.

"Sheriff dispatch, Pedro Six Two is on the ground and I'll let you know if we have the correct farmhouse. Over."

"Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. Copy on the ground. The weather here looks like sh... Looks very bad from here. Will you be going to Central? Over"

Bill laughed, the dispatcher was a solid professional but also had a good sense of when she could do something to ease the tension. Before he could answer, Jimmy chimed in on the circuit.

"Dispatch Alpha, Pedro Six Two. No. The base Metro folks tell me the storm has us fully boxed in. Would you please call, eeer, Bleakerville? That looks like our alternate-alternate divert hospital. Ah, do they even have a helipad? Over"

"Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. You people are going to have to buy a new set of tourist maps. Bleakerville hospital has the newest small Trauma Center in the tri-state area and it's state of the art. Hang on." A few seconds passed, and then the radio crackled back to life. "Yes, they have both a visual and IR marked helipad. My data shows that they can take up to a Chinook, so you guys should fit. Over."

"Dispatch Alpha, Pedro Six Two, Thanks! Do they monitor any frequency? Or just Unicom? Over."

"Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. I show them on Unicom one two two decimal eight hundred. I'll call and give them a heads up. They've been on divert since yesterday due to the predicted severity of this storm. Place should be damn near empty, so if you can land, they can easily handle the patient. Over"

The mednet radio crackled just then. "Scooter, Gopher. We have the patient. Started treatment with O2, a Lidocaine drip, and have him secured him in the Stokes. We'll start a second drip on board while you guys do all that fun pilot **** they pay you for. Over"

"Gotcha, Gopher. Let me update dispatch while you move the guy out. You want the white ground lights on?"

"Please and thank you. I'll lock up here as we leave. Anything else? Over"


"Dispatch Alpha, Pedro Six Two. We have the patient secured and will lift shortly. Anything else? Over"

"Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. Are you guys not taking the granddaughter with you? She's a little too young to leave out there by herself. Over"

"Granddaughter? This is the first I heard of someone else!"

"Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. Sorry. She went outside with a flashlight to, as she put it, find the airplane for Gramps. Where do you think the ground light came from? Over"

Before the dispatcher was finished, Jimmy was on the Mednet circuit. "Gopher, you guys see a little girl anywhere? Dispatch said a granddaughter was outside with a flashlight to act as a guide for us."

"The old man was the only one inside, that means... Holy flying fu...Ace and I will bring the old man out to the aircraft, the Ell Tee will start a ground grid search."

It only took a few minutes before the old man was inside and hooked up to the heart monitor and auto-defibrillation unit. Jimmy, Robert, Ace, and Wildman started quartering the pasture. It was difficult, because the snow was hip deep in places.

Twenty minutes later Lieutenant Drake shouted over the Mednet, "Got her! She is unresponsive, stiff, and cold. Light it up, Scooter. She's going to need the best and quick."

After updating the dispatcher, all Bill could do was push the airframe as hard as he dared to get to the hospital. With the engines sitting just under the top of the redline, burning up the sky, they made it to the Bleakerville facility in record time. The landing was little more than a controlled crash due to the wind, but they had both patients inside the hospital before Bill could finish his shutdown checklist.

Before he shut down everything, Bill made one last call. "Dispatch Alpha, Pedro Six Two. On the ground at Bleakerville and the patients are in the facility. Thank you for the help tonight. As one last favor, would you please call Pedro flight ops and let them know we are C L A G for the next few hours anyway. Thanks."

"Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. Thank god. The entire staff was praying for you, glad to hear you made it okay. I'll call Pedro flight ops and tell them you are Ceiling Low, Aircraft Grounded status for now. We'll also say some prayers for the little girl. Pedro Six Two, Dispatch Alpha. Out."

"Dispatch Alpha, Pedro Six Two. Thanks, we appreciate the prayers. I'll try to call tomorrow and give you an update. Pedro Six Two. Out." It was only then that Bill realized he was soaking wet with sweat. With the help of Robert, they finally secured the aircraft. Nobody was going anywhere else tonight, the wind was so bad it took both men to secure the small crew hatch.

Hours later, sitting in the ambulance bay for privacy, the crew was trying to decompress. It wasn't going to be a simple matter to forget the days events. They tried everything they and the local staff knew to resuscitate the little girl. Bill even called a couple of Coast Guard doctors that he knew to be experts in hypothermia. Nothing they tried had worked. Finally, forced to give up, they called her DOA at 01:23. Her grandpa lived, a small consolation.

To the surprise of everyone, the fire door for the bay slid open and a stunning blonde woman walked in. The crew looked up. Who was this?

"Hello," she said walking confidently up to the group, "I'm Nora Richmond, the night shift ED Charge Nurse. I don’t think we’ve had a chance to meet."

Bill introduced himself as Major Bill Anderson. "And let me introduce the rest of the Pedro Six Two crew dogs. This character is my co-pilot, Captain Jimmy 'Wild man' Williams." Pointing to the others in turn, Bill went on. "Crew chief and flight engineer extraordinaire for us is Mister Robert Teaman. Our lead Pararesecueman is Master Sergeant Mike "Gopher" Mulroney."

Bill now pointed to a pair of young, heavily tanned men. "This is Staff Sergeant Gary "Ace" McCloud," one of the young men nodded. "And this is Flight Lieutenant Albert Drake, on loan from Her Majesties Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Service."

"I'm pleased to meet you Ms. Richmond," he said, holding out his hand. "Please, call me Al. There’s too much formality now."

Nora stared at Al as if she hadn't seen a man in years. "What's up with this," Al thought, "does she know who I really am?" The thought of being discovered was always a worry.

"Please forgive me for staring, Al. I’m quite tired and I’m afraid that has made me less than polite." A thin smile went with the explanation, but he could see clearly that her pulse was still pounding.

Al decided to be polite. "No problem Ma’am. We were just trying to sort out where we could all sleep as well getting some food. It will likely be late tomorrow before we can begin digging out our bird and get back to the base." The smile he gave her at the same time caused Nora to flush so badly, everyone could see her cheeks turn two shades of red!

The men’s laughter certainly brought her back to her senses. "Well, I’m sorry nobody talked with you. Please accept my apologies. We have a small set of dormitory rooms here for off shift staff residents. I’m sure we can find you all a room." She went on, "I talked briefly with Dr Walker, that’s how I found out you were here. He did say I should ask about your mission."

At that statement, the smiles all abruptly disappeared. Bill asked guardedly, "What specifically were you interested in, Nora?"

"Well, Major Anderson. Bill. The small girl you seem to have brought in with an older gentleman. Dr Walker said something about a heart attack?"

The men all glanced at one another, suddenly looking grief stricken. After a minute of strained silence, Al spoke. "Well, that's going to be a bit of a story then, isn’t it? Is there somewhere we can get a bite to eat and talk? We've had a rather long day ourselves."

"My apologies again. Of course, I'm sure you would all like a hot meal and a cot. Come along now and we’ll have this sorted out in a jiff." Pulling out a small site radio, Nora called for housekeeping to meet them in the cafeteria. "Let’s go, gentlemen. Dinner is on me!" With that, she whirled about and took off, seemly trusting they could keep up. By the time she had reached the fire door, she found herself surrounded by a wall of solid muscle.

The group was soon sitting down for dinner. Nora had chosen a small salad and a fruit drink, the airmen had opted for a larger dinner of meatloaf, potatoes with a rich gravy and vegetables. They all carried large mugs of milk, this seemed to be a surprise to Nora. Rather than say anything, she let them eat. It was obvious to her the airmen were very hungry. In short order, the food disappeared. The silence gave her the opportunity to take a long looks at Lieutenant Drake, something that he didn't miss.

"Why the looks?" wondered Al silently. She'd proven to be competent, caring, even offering to buy their dinner. Al had to admit to himself she was certainly very easy on the eyes. No more than a meter, 60 tall, less than 50 kilos...tops. With beautiful blonde hair surrounding her heart shaped face. But what had him intrigued was how she carried herself. Just like a real Princess. Not a spoiled bitch that Daddy called Princess, but like authentic royalty, something he knew of first-hand.

"Ah, Ms. Richmond...may I call you Nora?" Al's question was quiet, almost unheard in the low chatter of the other diners.

"Certainly, Al, that would be fine." She was clearly curious now. It was refreshing to meet someone a bit formal and certainly polite, a rarity these days. Rather than continue, Al turned to the others.

"Major, everyone's pretty tired. Why don't you and the others hit the rack? I'll back brief Nora and join you after a bit. Will that be okay?" The crew glanced at each other and shrugged.

"Fine by me, Al. We'll see you at the room. Maybe by the time you get there, the hot water will be running again," Bill said. The group laughed lightly, but was quickly gone, as though whisked away by a genie. In reality, it was just the night shift housekeeper.

As the housekeeper showed them where to bed down, Bill asked if there was a telephone he could use in private. He needed to sort out with the Commander how they could get some help out to the hospital. He was certain that tomorrow he would find the Osprey snowed in solidly.

Bill got far more than he bargained for in his telephone call. After ensuring he was alone, the Commander told him to sit tight with the crew. Something from space, something unknown, had smacked into China. Reports indicated it tore up everything from the border of Mongolia, through China, Burma and parts of India, then gone on to damage parts of South Africa. Nobody knew what the "it" was. Not knowing it's origin or worse yet, if it would strike again, only added to the tension.

"Look, Major Anderson, things are changing by the second. Just try get a good nights sleep and in the morning, I'll have something a bit more solid to give you. The press is out of the loop for now, thank god, but that won't last forever. Plan on getting to a local store first thing in the AM and pick up anything you might next for, say, two weeks. You have my permission to use your charge card for whatever you need. Now, I have to go. Good night."

It wasn't a good night. Bill decided to tell the crew this news in the morning. They all needed the sleep and the reality of it was there was squat they could do about things anyway. Not that anyone was sleeping all that well after the loss of the little girl. Even more troubling, they still didn't a name for her. She was still just "the little girl."

Bill got everyone up early, breaking the news to the group, such as he had. He was finally able to get everyone out to eat breakfast. Bill had to send Teaman out to watch the aircraft. The storm had blown out, they could see from the little window in the hallway that the aircraft was buried deep. But not deep enough to cover the crew hatch. So, a watch was required.

Bill grabbed a plate of food to go from the cafeteria and walked back to the little conference room to call the base for an update. He knew the others would follow as soon as they finished eating. He'd send someone out later to spell Teaman, so he could eat.

The crew showed up less than thirty minutes later, finding Bill immersed in a conference call. The news had gotten worse overnight. The thing had struck again, this time in South America. And for whatever reason, gone on to take a divot out of the moon! The moon was already rising on the East Coast of North America. Once visible, all bets were off. The media would have a field day!

Later, Nora showed up and entered the conference room. Opening the door as she knocked, Nora said "Hello all, what are you up to toda..." They never saw her enter. The men were all were completely focused on the telephone, as though it were a live snake.

Bill was talking to someone on the speakerphone. "Damnit Colonel, you've left us out to dry! We don't even have any ammunition for our..." Bill stopped when he saw Nora. Before he could say anything, the voice on the telephone said, "I'm sorry, Major, but I have my orders as well. As bad as it may get, it's better that you are out there. I'll personally see to your families. You have no worries there. So soldier, soldier on. Out."

Their expressions stopped Nora cold. Grim faced and dark, they all seemed to have gotten word of a close friend's death. "Oh my! I'm so sorry. Have I interrupted something?"

Bill was the first to speak, "No, Nora. I just finished a long call back to the base." He wrinkled his nose, as if a distinctly rotten odor had wafted by, "We won't be given any help. So we're here till we can get the bird cleared and can take off."

Nora raised an eyebrow, "Is it so very bad here? I'm sure we can find a place for you to stay until the snow is cleared. The outside staff might just be persuaded to lend a hand."

Again, and oddly to Nora's eye, Al checked his watch. "Well, true, that. We were all worried about being able to get to town and do the shopping that we discussed earlier. Are there any taxis or rental outfits nearby?"

That seemed reasonable, they all must be upset for the trouble they were causing, and no doubt, the hard work ahead. Nora smiled. "Then we best be off. I'm sure the road crews have cleared the way to town. I'll ask if we can borrow one of the facilities larger trucks for the morning."

True to her word, they were all soon on their way to Bleakerville. Nora had sweet-talked one of the security guards into staying past his shift to watch the ungainly aircraft left squatting on the helipad while they did some shopping. Everyone fit into the borrowed truck, except Al, who had asked if he could ride with Nora as she led the group into town.

"Well, that depends," Nora said before they started, "will you all be taking those carbines with you?" Not that it mattered, but she was curious about why they carried them.

"Well, Nora," Gary said, "yes we will. He have to." At her puzzled look, he went on. "We signed for these when we left the base. We're personally responsible for them until we can return them to the armory, you see? You'll have to trust me on this; since these are fully automatic weapons, regulations require us to retain possession at all times."

The trip into town was short enough, a simple matter, less than ten miles altogether. With the recent weather, it was necessarily a slow trip. Al took the time to ask Nora a few questions.

"Nora, do you trek or camp at all? I mean you look so," she could tell he was struggling for a word, "well, so fit. I was wondering, you don't look like a runner to me."

While she was flattered that Al had noticed that she stayed in shape, it was Nora's turn to stall, looking for a good answer. "Is he interested in me or only being polite?" she thought. "I just don't know, but a girl can always hope." she kept that thought to herself.

"You have me there, Al. I hate to run, always have. The area around here is so beautiful, very much so in the spring and summer. I pretty much live outdoors then." At his puzzled look, she went on. "I spend a lot of time indoors, working in a pressure cooker. This may be a small hospital, but it's the only real medical care for two or three hours drive. We get swamped in the ED most days. People have no choice but to treat us as a primary care facility and we do get some funding for that." She looked at Al closely, "Busy wouldn't begin to describe my regular shift. Keep in mind, I have the night shift."

She pointed out the window, "I managed to get into a three and two, two and three shift and if I work it right, I get five days in a row off. For those five days I am out walkabout. I sleep under a small tarp in a hammock, or a tent if the weather looks really off. It is the only thing that lets me work off the pressure."

She laughed, "I'm no pioneer woman. I use all the latest in high-tech gear and have permission from most of the landowners around here to camp, use their water. If I can find anything to eat, they're happy I can enjoy it. That's the biggest reason I love working here." Turning to look directly at him, she went on, "Sorry to be so long winded, I'm just happy to be out and about. And helping you fine gentlemen is just a bonus!"

Al's face turned red. "I cannot express just how much this means to us. I find it fascinating you spend so much time outdoors. Have you ever had any...ummm, problems? With wildlife, I mean."

Nora shook her head. "No. There are a couple of packs of feral dogs running around in this County, but I don't worry too much about that." At his puzzled expression, she elaborated. "My grandfather was a US Marine, a Grunt with five combat tours. He made damn sure his little sweet pea, as he put it, could take care of herself and business. I carry a 357 Magnum, loaded with Corbon +P 38 Special hollow-points. So, you can see that I don't worry about much. I rarely see anyone when out and about, maybe the odd farmer if I am on their property."

"I'm impressed Nora, I really am. So few women spend any real time out of doors these days." Al looked at watch again. "So, do you trek with your friends at the hospital?"

Nora smiled at that question. Al was not as devious as he thought. "Yes, I do. Jenny, the cook? She and I trek together quite often, as does one of the surgical nurses. If the weather is really nice, even old doctor Walker will go walkabout with me for part of an afternoon. He's quite the avid picnicker and very dear to all of us."

She glanced in the mirror, and then hit the blinker lever. "We're almost there. This store is fantastic. It is run by, of all people, an old Marine buddy of my grandfather. In fact, he was one of the local folks to convince me to take the job here."

Turning, the vehicles followed a short driveway, finally pulling into a parking lot that was all but empty. The store stood alone but was considerable in size. To anyone standing outside, it could have been a hardware store, a general store or a military surplus store, if one were to judge from the different goods displayed in the windows.

Nora bounced out of the little coupe and as she hit the door, called over her shoulder for the group to "Wait just a bit." She disappeared inside leaving the others to themselves.

* * * * * *

The day started well enough. Hot oatmeal for his breakfast, dry food for Roscoe, hygiene break, then dress in clothing both warm enough for the weather and that fit over his new prosthetics. The storm last night had been a gold-plated bitch. With howling winds and heavy snow, it had been a classic Plains blizzard. Little snow had accumulated in or around town, the wind scouring it away almost as fast as it had fallen. The road crew had been out early, passing through Bleakerville at just past day light. The roar of the diesels had wakened Jake just a bit before his alarm clock/radio had the chance to come alive. Normally he caught the weather for the day from KSL, the only radio station he could get this early in the morning, despite its distance. "Not today," he thought as shut off the radio, "I'll use the extra time to extend my workout a bit."

He fired up the rusted out beater used to get to and from his employment at The Bunker while Roscoe did his morning business. Then, with the heater howling madly, he and Roscoe hit the road for the days work. While the drive was short, the road was still icy in spots, so slow and careful was the rule for the day. Less than twenty minutes later, they were at the turnoff leading to the store.

The parking lot was clear. Jake shook his head. Junior must have been up with the road crews to get the lot this clean. The main door was already open. Steve, his boss and long time bud, would've been in earlier to fire up the coffee pot. Jake enjoyed a good cuppa as well as anyone but Steve damn near had to have an IV drip going all day or he would as grouchy as a, well, as grouchy as Sergeant Majors always seemed to be day to day. That caused Jake to laugh. Steve was as nice a guy as anyone could hope to find.

As the door opened, Roscoe was out in a flash, making his morning swing around the store. Jake laughed again; he knew that Roscoe would find nothing in the almost Spring cold. In the summer, Roscoe would chase off anything that had invaded his territory. That was weeks away unless the warm Spring winds came early.

Once inside the store, he went through his normal routine. Open the steel shuttered windows; unblock the rear fire door and check the water tanks. Those tasks done, Jake entered the small storage room, next to the utilities closet to start his exercise regimen. Steve had been more than understanding on Jake's return from the VA hospital and even helped him set up the simple exercise bar set. The cottage he rented was just too tiny for the equipment. Jake knew once he finished, Junior would be in to work out. A couple of the others used the room at lunch, Steve worked out three or fours days a week before he left for the day.

Jake might not have all of his legs, but his arms and upper torso were rock solid, and the new high-tech prosthetics the VA had recently fitted were amazing - he was going to be running this summer! The docs had also fitted a set of custom 'feet' to allow him to ride his motorcycle, just now back, retrofitted by a vendor in Oregon. All in all, things were looking up for the summer.

Once he had cleaned up, Jake went to the front counter to set up the register, see if there was news or changes that he needed to know about and grab his one cup of coffee for the day. After flipping the switch to light up the OPEN sign, he leaned on the stool next to the main counter.

As Steve walked up, Jake waved his coffee mug and said "Sup? Anything new? Changes?"

"Por nada mi amigo. It's all good today."

Steve seemed chipper enough, but Jake noted that he had, for some reason, left Buddy and the girls home today. Before he could ask anything about the dogs, the floor moved - a small shake, really. He looked to Steve - "Was that me or something else?"

Steve shrugged, "Maybe a snowblade?" A second rumble caused the bell on the door to tinkle, just a bit. Steve walked to the door, looked outside, and came back. "Got me Snake," he said with a shrug, "nothing going on out there that I can see." He headed to his back office.

Before Jake could say anything else, the rest of the crew began streaming in, heading for the coffee pot. With the same addiction as Steve, coffee was their first order of business. Jake smiled, the crew was a good group, all Vets, they had been working together for years. Jake and Steve had worked the store from nearly the beginning, Junior Lowery for the last three years.

As was customary, they all drifted back to the counter to see if Steve had anything special for the day. Junior was there, towel around his neck; he must have been hitting it pretty hard.

"OK guys. No changes, all inventory lists are due in next week, looks like this morning will be slow, so now is a good time to get finished. Anything for me?" After negative headshakes, the crew left to finish the inventory of their sections. Jake started sorting the last week's cargo manifests; Steve would crosscheck them against current intake inventory, and then cut checks to the suppliers.

As he noted shortages from the Fill Sheets, Jake tapped orders into the computer. He fully expected this to be a slow morning where he could get his monthly reports completely finished for a change. He'd work the mail-order stuff this afternoon one-on-one with Junior, that always took an extra couple of hours - but training his replacement was vital to keep the operation running smoothly.

Just as he entered his last fill order, the door chimed. Looking up, he was surprised to see Nora Richmond come through the door. Blonde, petite and in her late twenties, Nora worked at the local hospital. To the causal observer, she might appear to be a frilly woman, maybe all of 100 pounds on a thin frame, blue eyes and all.

Jake knew better. She was Steve's 'adopted' daughter and her mild exterior masked a woman who knew how to take of her self. He had been to the range with Steve and her too many times to think otherwise. "Hey Nora! Good to see you, what brings you out this way?" he said with a smile. Because she always seemed so sweet and outgoing, Jake was fond of her, as was the rest of the crew.

"Jake, just the man I wanted to see!" she exclaimed. "I have a truckload of stranded para-rescue types outside. They need some gear to hold them over while they try to dig out their airplane, or at least that's the story they are selling. I need to talk to Steve..."

Jake used his thumb to point over his shoulder - Nora headed for the office. Taking her comment as a heads-up, he whistled up the crew. By the time Nora and Steve came out of the office, the crew was waiting for them by the front counter.

"Don't know all what's up, but we have an aircrew that got stuck at the hospital by the storm. I want one of you with each crewman to help them find whatever they are looking for. Should be things like clothes - pants, drawers, socks, jacket, outdoor stuff. It looks like they will be digging out an airplane stuck on the helipad over at the hospital. Nora says they are in a hurry for some reason, so please keep that in mind. Also, they will be carrying their weapons, so don't let other customers give them any crap about that - OK?"

At their nods, Steve went on - "Snake, you're on checkout - let these lunks earn their pay today - OK?" Without waiting for a reply, Nora and Steve went outside.

Jake looked at the assembled crew - "Something's up. Something big. Steve has that look. So, get these guys in and out as fast as you can - I don't think they will bitch about it." Before he could say anything further, Steve and Nora returned, followed by six men, all wearing baggy greenish-brown overalls.

Steve was short and to the point. Pointing to the assembled crew, he said, "These folks will help you, one on one. No sense in wasting time you don't have." At the started glances from the airmen, he continued. "I understand you have a ****potload of snow to move and not too much time. So get what you need. Ah, who can I talk with about your carbines?

One of the aviators stepped forward, "I'll take this, you guys get going." At that, the group broke up heading for different parts of the building, each talking with their guide as they went. Steve and the unknown man quickly sorted out what questions Steve posed, and after allowing him to examine his weapon - the airman was off with Junior, his guide.

What happened next shocked Jake. When the aircrew was out of earshot, Steve exploded - "******* Nora, you're right. Those boys have a cloud of bad karma sitting on their asses like I haven't seen in years and years. What the hell is going on? Being dumped by their higher is just...unfair."

"I really don't know Steve. On the way over, Al asked if I could camp and shoot. He thought he was subtle, but I could read through it - this goes past concerned. I can only guess bad. Maybe bad moon bad?" she whispered. It was both mysterious and scary at the same time. "What are you going to do?"

Steve scrunched his face. "I am going to make some calls and get some intel. In the meantime, go find your man and stick to him. I've got work to do. And remember, no matter how bad it gets, we can always go out to Martha's place."

The reference to Steve's long deceased wife caused Nora to flinch. He pulled Nora's arm away from his own, turned her around, "Go get your man. And don't roll those pretty blue eyes at me. I saw how you two were looking at each other. Go!" He slapped her butt to enforce the command, and then turned to his office.

Part 1 of 2

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Part 2 of 2 Going Home.

Jake didn't know what was going on, but there was a hell of a lot more going on than a simple shopping trip for a stranded aircrew. A shout from Steve's office confirmed his worry.

"Snake, get your ragged old ass over here!"

"S'up Sergeant Major?" Jake was no fool, Steve only used that voice when something was cracking. And it must cracking bad. The last time he heard him this gruff was just before they had left for Phu Cat - a very, very long time ago.

"Snake, I want you to pull and set up six sets of field gear. Full up. Recon. Cat 4, cold weather. Each gets nine mags, the full med kit, stove, chow and a basha. Throw in any gear you would want in a ****storm. I'll be filling the mags. Put the gear in a cart and bring it up here. In this case, time matters. So, haul ass!"

Jake took off, heading back to the surplus area of the store, pushing a large cart. He snagged Billy as he went past the gun counter. Between the two of them, they soon had the cart full of web gear, pouches, rucksacks, sleeping systems, stoves and what Jake figured to be at least four days of food for each airman. It helped that Steve had specified something on their pre-pack list - that didn't stop Jake from adding items he would want if the **** was in the wind. Billy caught on quickly, adding extra water treatment tabs and filters, canisters of stove fuel, nomex gloves and weapons cleaning kits.

Less than forty minuets later, they met Steve back at the gun counter. Steve had just finished filling stacks of magazines. They all stuffed the magazines into pouches on the field gear, then set all the gear in a cardboard box. Jake offered a small observation - "Looks like you are getting someone ready for a serious old-school world of hurt Boss."

Steve was short and to the point. "Dunno Snake. Maybe and maybe not. We'll talk about that later. You just get the crew checked out, this gear is a loan. I don't want it on the books, just in case tomorrow comes in all bright and shiny, eh?"

"Got it." Jake was off, as Steve placed the rest of the gear in another box. At the check out Jake found the crew busy stuffing Carhart gear and all sorts of socks and drawers into to smaller, easy to move boxes. Everything was all but done and in record time, all finished in less than 90 minutes. The total was considerable.

"How do you folks want to pay for this?" Jake was curious on how they would pay, this was a lot of gear.

A Major, Jake assumed to be the leader of the small group, silently offered up his blue and white Government credit card. Jake had to shake his head. "Sorry Major, we've had those before. Our bank won't take them. Anything else?"
A Lieutenant, a Brit, Jake guessed after looking at his rank tabs, stepped up and handed Jake a black, gold-trimmed AMEX credit card. Jake looked up sharply, you just didn't see these cards this far out in the sticks. '"I'm really sorry, but can I see some ID? Sadly, I must ask for these, you understand?" Jake was embarrassed to have to ask, but the company rules were firm on the matter.

"Not a problem, if you didn't ask, I would be worried. Here." The name on his military ID, Albert Drake, matched the name on the card and so Jake swiped it. He stared intently at the electronic readout, then pushed a couple of buttons. He couldn't believe what he had seen, the readout indicated a so-called "royal flag." The flag indicated a member of a royal family, just not whose royal family. Jake could only guess.

The transaction took just seconds. Jake looked up - "All good. May I ask a question?"

Al shrugged, "Certainly, but I get to choose to answer."

Jake smiled as he handed back the card. "I thought Royals didn't do their own shopping. May we have permission to at least say you shopped here?" The expression on everyone's face was a symphony of surprise, shock, wonderment and in Nora's case, astonishment.

The smile offered by Al was small but genuine. "Yes, you may - but please, nothing in print, you do understand?"

"More than the others might, I fought with some your Marines in the Ashau Valley - back in the day. It will be more for bragging rights, Your Highness..."

Al cut off the rest of what might have been said - "Well, then, that's all good - shall we get this gear loaded now?" He was out the door with two boxes, with the rest of the crew following seconds later.

Nora followed Steve, both heading for the back office. Jake's head was whirling, what in the hell was going on? Within a few minutes, Al had gone back toward the office as well. Shortly after that, they all walked out the front door, with Nora carrying a small rifle - something Steve had shown him. But that was for Nora's birthday - at least that what he understood Steve to have said.

As Steve walked back into the store, he flipped the door sign over to "Closed," Letting the door sigh shut, he bellowed, "We is a going fishing early this year boys! Wrap it up so we can get gone!"

Without a backward look, Steve went into his office. Pushing aside a large filing cabinet, he opened the wall safe sitting behind the cabinet. Extracting a large box of cash, he made nine neat stacks. One stack was for each employee, each secured with a stout rubber band. He took a moment to reach back in the safe and set out an old, mostly empty bottle and two rather large bags, which he sat on the floor. Standing, he slammed the safe closed and pushed the cabinet back into position, mostly from habit. Gathering up the cash, he walked out the door.

At the front counter stood the full crew, silent and with expressions ranging from resigned to actively frightened. Jake had been with Steve and Martha from day one, the youngest, just three years - and that only after Steve persuaded the VA he could work safely at The Bunker.

Steve laid out the cash in neat stacks. "We're going fishing early this year friends, here is an advance your next paycheck or so - I expect you might need some real cash soon. Is everything locked up?"

They all nodded - the heavy steel shutters were in place, all the doors blocked and locked, water off, just the electric service had to be cut and the building would be secure while they were out fishing, a annual group vacation usually lasting a month or more. This time, nobody knew.

"OK - here's the deal. We take a month, things get all shiny with unicorns, we come back, we're in business. But for now, the **** is in the fan. I gotta tell ya, I just checked with the G2. I got no answer, no answering machine - zip. I than called the G4. I got 'bad moon rising'. Looks like a real old-school, epic ****storm is brewing and there's jack we can do about it. We've talked on this at length. I would strongly suggest you pull the pin on whatever you have planned and beat feet for your hidey-hole. I hope this cash will help. If you need anything, speak up now."

The group looked at each other. Now the scene just played out with the aircrew made a bit more sense, Jake stepped up. Pushing one of the stacks back to Steve he said, "I'm good, split this with the rest."

Two others did the same, Billy took a stack and put it on top of another - then handed it to Junior, the youngest man there.

"Okay, I get it - you don't want cash. What?" A pause, then Steve jerked his thumb over his shoulder - "The ammo vault is open, please keep it to a case of rifle and a case of pistol. Go!" Twenty minutes later, Jake was alone with Steve, just as he knew it would be.

Jake followed Steve back to his office. Sitting, Steve pulled two battered mugs out of a drawer. Setting them on his desk, he splashed the last of the contents of the bottle into the mugs - handing one to Jake.

"Jake, I watched the moon come up out there. What's left of it. I didn't want to say anything out there." Rubbing his face, he went on, "We are well and truly screwed. Worse than Hill 151. This time, we ain't got the dogs."

"Bull****!" Jake leaned out and gave a short whistle. Seconds later, a large Shepard mix bounded into the office. "Steve, I'm going up to the kid's place. All my stuff has been moved up there, most of it while I was at the VA," he said, slapping his leg, "but I gotta have Roscoe here. In case I have to stop - or something. You know."

Steve nodded. He leaned back, slapping the side of his desk. A panel popped out, and he pulled a squat, deadly looking weapon from the space. "I wish I could give you a Swedish K, but this M2 will have to do." He pushed one of the bags over to Jake, "five mags and 500 rounds, should get you home.' He lifted his glass.

"To friends, here and gone, but not forgotten." Jake echoed the thought, and then they drained their mugs.

"OK, time I get going. Steve - it's been a hell of run, thanks for everything." He stood, picked up the gear and walked out. They never said goodbye - ever. That would bring bad luck. What the future would bring remained to be seen.

Roscoe in tow, he was soon headed back to his cottage - time to pull the pin, time to beat feet. Steve was right, seeing for himself that a big chuck of the moon seemed to be missing had scared the crap out of him - he could only wonder how the rest of the world would take the news.


Due to limits on the size of posts I had to post in 2 parts.
Looking forward to your thoughts...

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Chapter 1 part 1 of man parts

The short trip back to his cottage had been a fright. Cars were blowing past him on the road, all of them headed south. It was though they thought they were the only one on the road. Thankfully, he was able to get into the small lane leading to his place, and soon was parked outside of his place.

Once Jake opened the door, Roscoe flashed past him, headed for the field behind the storage sheds he had put up last year. "Enjoy it for now mutt, you got a trip coming up." he said. Shaking his head, he opened the door to the cottage and went in, setting the little carbine and ammo bag just to the side - ready to hand.

He flipped a wall switch and sat down on the wooden chair at the table. Jake stopped, closed his eyes and sat very still. After running a set of mental checklists, he started on this, his next journey. The journey home - to family and he hoped, a future. Standing, he started his work.

Turning on the hot water, he filled a teapot, placing it on the stove and fired up the burner. Walking into the small bathroom, a recent addition to the cottage, he picked up the plug for the cast-iron tub. Putting a bead of toothpaste around it for a better seal, he plugged the drain and turned on the cold-water tap.

Back in the main room, he picked up a bag and removed a pair of stainless steel containers. He had gotten these Dewarr flasks from Nora last summer. The hospital had upgraded their liquid N2 system and Nora had thoughtfully snagged these for Jake from the surplus sale. They made great thermal flasks for coffee. He filled them from the hot water tap, shut off the water and set the flasks aside. After turning down the gas on the stovetop, he walked into the 'bedroom'.

Big enough for a bed and a small closet/drawer set, it met his needs. Reaching under the bed he pulled out a well worn bag - one would had to look closely to see the inner plastic liner. Zipping open the top he loaded two sets of his heaviest pants and a set of heavy wool shirts, two set of expedition weight thermals and several rolls of underwear, filling in the loose spaces with Merino wool socks. Because he had done this so many times in the past, the items all fit, but just. He had room to put in his small folding shaving/hygiene kit and covered everything with two folded 'wonder fiber' towels. Zipped closed, this went next to the front door.

The tub was now about full, so he shut off the tap. Back at the stove, he picked up the pot and after dumping the water out of the Dewarr flasks, he refilled them with boiling water - capping them carefully to ensure no leaks. These went back into their insulated bag and joined the bag already at the front door.

Opening the cabinets over the sink, he began setting out items - oatmeal, grits, sugar, all the remaining packets of freeze-dried coffee, salt and a compact multi-spice container. From another cabinet he added self-heating meals, some small tubs of peanut butter, a couple of boxes of dried soup and individual packets of tuna and his old standby, SPAM - finally a box of pilot bread finished his 'shopping'.

It was the work for a few minutes to transfer the dry goods into heavy-duty zipclose bags - with another bag full of empty bags, this food all went into a small daypack. He tossed in a bag of plasticware - spoons and such, this bag joined the others inside the daypack. A small bag of condiment packets he'd accumulated - everything from catsup and salt to pepper and Parmesan cheese went on top. That joined the others at the door.

He took a few more minutes to empty out the rest of the food in his little pantry and dump it in the nearby clothes dryer, the one reason this dump was worth renting. Throwing in the last of his dirty clothes, he shut the door on the appliance. A quick look showed the food was now hidden.

Going over to the refrigerator, he pushed it aside. Behind the appliance there was an obvious patch in the wall, covered by plywood. He ignored that and stooping down worked a small board loose in the floor. This allowed him to release a larger section of the floor. From the void under the floor, he removed two bags, dropping the floor back into place. Carrying the bags to the table, he sat them down.

He opened the first of the bags and pulled out a Government Model M1911A1, a compact shoulder holster and several loaded magazines. These magazines went in a pouch set attached to a harness, to which - in turn, he connected the shoulder holster.

He shrugged into the harness, attaching the loose ends of the harness to his heavy leather belt. Pulling the weapon, he added a full magazine and racked the slide, set the thumb safety and placed it back in the holster, setting the thumb-break across the back of the slide. Jake took a moment to stretch and pull to ensure the harness had settled into its customary position.

Putting on his coat, he went out to the beater. He stopped - the roar of noise from the highway and stopped. Listening intently, he could hear nothing, it was as though a switch had been thrown, cutting off the noise. "No matter," he shrugged, "no traffic is better for me anyway." Popping the trunk of the beater he pulled the milk crate of miscellaneous crap he kept there - flares, bottles of water, jumper cables and such. As he turned to the open door of the cottage, he caught movement out of the comer of his eye.

A man stood there, holding a hammer, looking wild-eyed. Jake could only assume he must have come in from the highway. "What can I do for you mister?" he asked as he set down the crate. Saying nothing, the seemingly out of control man advanced - waving the hammer.

Holding up his now-empty hands, Jake went on - "Whoa there partner! What seems to be the problem?" Jake could try to pull his pistol, but the guy was close enough to make that problematic - and it would certainly escalate the situation. "You need some help?"

"Gimme your keys, I'm taking your car!" The man was clearly desperate - why was unknown.

Jake gave a low whistle - then pointed to the beater. "You want that piece of ****? Really?" Using a calm voice had seemed to have the effect Jake wanted. "Seriously, its almost out of gas and runs like hell. It is junk." This conversation also served to keep the man focused on Jake - he didn't want the man to see Roscoe trot up behind him. Roscoe sat silently, waiting for a command from Jake.

"I gotta have the car. My ride dumped me at the gas station - bastard took off while I was trying to call home. I need to get to Duncan, my family is there." He raised the hammer again - "Gimme the keys man, I don't want to hurt you - but I will if I hafta!"

Jake shook his head. "You got me man, the car is yours if you want it - really. You got any money?"

"What?" The man was confused at the sudden turn.

"I asked if you had any money - the car about of out of gas, you'll need some more before you head off to Duncan. At least half a tank is my guess." Jake was careful to keep his hands in sight, no telling what could set this guy off.

"Ah, no. I don't" was the reply.

"OK, tell you what, I'm going to reach inside my jacket here and get my wallet. OK?"

"I don't want your wallet; I want the keys, that's all, OK? I not a thie..." The man stopped as his own words sunk in. He dropped the hammer and fell to his knees, tears streaming from his eyes. "I just want to get to my family." He pointed to the now fully exposed moon - "If it's all over, I just want to be with the kids - see?"

"Trust me friend, I really do understand. I don't need the car, you can have it. I was serious; do you have any money for gas?"

The man raised his tear streak face - "No. No, I don't. I was working a short term contract and payday isn't for another week. Now," he said looking up, "maybe never."

While the man was talking, Jake had stepped back, almost to the car. He took out his keychain, and pulled the car keys from the rest. "Look friend. Here's the keys," he dropped them on the driver seat. Then opening his wallet, he pulled a out pair of twenties. These went onto the front seat as well. "And this should be enough for a half-tank of gas. OK?"

The man's reaction caught Jake by surprise - he collapsed. Jake didn't approach him, rather he went inside the cottage and pulled a glass of water from the tap. Back outside, he sat the glass next to the man, then stepped back and waited. Before long, the man stirred.

"Friend, there is a glass of water next to you. Take a drink and we can get you on your way."

After the man had finished the water, he looked at Jake. "Why?"

"Simple, you need the ride and I don't. Tell you what. If it will make you fell better, when you get to Duncan, drop it off at the Sheriff's station parking lot. Leave the keys in the front hubcap. I can pick it later. OK?"

The man could only shake his head in disbelief. "I was going to brain you and steal your car. How can you do this?"

Jake's smile was small - "Well you didn't and now you have a ride. When you get to the gas station, ask for a guy, name's Sumdum. Tell him Snake said it was OK to sell you the gas. Then get back to your family." He could see the man's disbelief at the turn of events. "If must know, this my pay back on some good Karma from days past. OK?"

The man was soon in the car and just before he drove off, he said -"My name is Stone, James Stone. I know yours isn't Snake. And I owe you big time."

Jake was quick to reply. "Good to meet you James Stone. My name is Jake, Jake Weinstein. Now, get going - before the gust front from the city gets here."

At that, Jake turned and walked away. The entire episode had taken almost a half hour and he didn't have time to waste. He stopped at the landlord's house across the lane from his cottage and knocked on the door. When nobody answered, he knocked again. This time a small child answered.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Jake. Mommy and Daddy are still in bed, can I do something for you."

Jake fought not to sigh out loud, and lost. The property owner's wife was a flake, and lazy to boot. How in the hell the little girl had turned out so sweet, he couldn't guess. She was also smart as hell, he knew that from first hand experience.

"Good morning, Cathy. Yes you can help me out." He pulled an envelope from his pocket, handing it to the child. "Here is the next month's rent. I'm going on vacation early, and don't know exactly when I'll be back." He paused, and then pulled another key off his keychain.

"Here is the key to the front door." He paused. "Look, can you keep a little secret?"

"You know I can Mr. Jake. I never said anything about your magic motorcycle."

"True enough, Cathy. OK - I left a second door key in a can - it's in the hole behind the shed, the one that Roscoe dug last Fall. You know it?"

"Yes Mr. Jake, I watched him dig it," this brought a giggle from the girl.

"OK. The secret is this. I filled the cottage bath tub full of water and left some food in the clothes dryer - just in case. If you or little Bobby get hungry it is perfectly fine with me if you go inside and get something to eat. I really don't care if your folks go hungry - it might be a good lesson for them." He didn't try to hide the contempt in his voice. "But I don't want you kids to go without. OK?"

"Ah, OK, Mr. Jake. And thank you," this in a voice so quiet it was a whisper. It just struck Jake that the kids had gone without food, more than once.

"Well, Roscoe and I need to get going. Do you think you can wake up your folks? Something is going on and they should know about it."

"I'd rather not Mr. Jake; you know how Daddy can get. He worked extra late last night moving snow at the hospital."

"OK then, honey. You just work to take care of Bobby, things will take care of themselves I suppose." Jake waved as he walked back to the cottage. "OK Roscoe, time to haul ass boy."

He unlocked the big shed and looked around. The heat lamp was on and pointed at the transmission case, everything should be good and warm by now. He pushed the ungainly motorcycle into the daylight. Lifting his leg over the machine, he sat on the comfortable saddle - then hit the starter button. The rumble coming out of the flat twin cylinder engine rewarded his effort.

He idled out of the shed and left the machine to continue warming as it idled. He opened the rear trunk lid of the sidecar. He fitted the bags initially stored by the cottage door into that space and seeing he still had room, he went into the shed and retrieved a larger toolkit and some bottles of oil. With one fuel can, that was all the load he wanted un the back.

From the smaller shed next to his 'garage', he pulled a large 50-pound bag of dry dog food and sat that in the footwell of the sidehack. Since he had ordered the cycle without a seat in the sidehack, he had even more room than he'd hoped for in the beginning. Next, a thick pad for Roscoe went in, then behind that a pair of orange Pelican cases. A heavy wool horse blanket, also for the dog, held the cases in place with just one fold. A jug of water and Roscoe's bowl set filled the last of the space in the sidehack passenger compartment.

After fitting three more of the funky Russian gas cans in their respective places - one in the front rack, one in a rear rack and one over the spare tire on the sidehack , he returned to the shed. Grunting a bit, he picked up a dark green ALICE rucksack; straps secured by duck tape, and set it on the rear rack of the motorcycle. Bungee cords soon held it firmly in place. The shed doors he just shut, no sense in locking them now, there was nothing to steal anyway.

Throwing the shift lever, he put the Ural in reverse; backing up to the front of the cottage one last time. Retrieving the ammo bags, he put those in the sidehack, close at hand. The deadly M2 carbine went in last, stock folded, magazine in place, with the pistol grip just under his strong hand. The factory-installed weapons mount had been one accessory Jake had been happy to pay for to 'upgrade' the sidehack.

We whistled to Roscoe and soon had his buddy safely in the sidehack. "Keep an eye on things for a couple of minutes, eh?" Jake hit the head one last time, shutting the bathroom door, checking that everything was off and then locking the door as he left. Shrugging into the heavy coat he had picked up on the way out, he was soon in a baklava. Helmet and gloves in place, he put the ugly motorcycle in gear.

"OK, Roscoe, now the fun begins." Jake let the clutch out and headed for the main road, uncertain of what he would find.

He never made it to the road.

It's taken me an hour to post this much of the story.. So it looks like this will be a multipart post...

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Chpater 1, part 2 of many parts

Jake woke up with Roscoe licking his face. When the dog saw Jake's eyelids move, he stopped his ministrations and started to bark. Surprised to be flat on his back, Jake asked, "Roscoe, what the hell happened?"

The dog couldn't tell him the thing that had knocked him off the bike and caused the machine to wildly bounce was invisible. The loud noise wasn't so bad, Roscoe had been to the range plenty of times with the crew from The Bunker. The thing had knocked him deep into his bed, softening the blow. Jake, thrown off the bike, was knocked silly.

As he had been trained, when Jake didn't respond to his barking, Roscoe pulled and pulled until Jake was on his back. That took some time, Roscoe was not small at 70 pounds, it was just that Jake was a lot bigger. Roscoe figured licking his face couldn't hurt, he could tell Jake was breathing, the soft sound wasn't lost to his sensitive hearing.

Jake sat up. "Sweet mother of pearl boy." The cycle, a few feet away, had obviously stalled, thank goodness. He knew better than to try to stand right away. Jake took several deep breaths - OK. Hands, arms, shoulders - all OK.

Taking off one of the heavy gloves, Jake rubbed his face - wet after Roscoe had 'helped'. The dog was right there, almost in his face. "OK boy - I'm good. We are going to have to talk about your choice of mouthwash though." The dog seemed to enjoy the quick head rub - as always.

He had a headache, but that would go away, at least he hoped so. Once his personal inventory was completed, it was time to get up and get going. Whatever had hit him could not be a good thing. It took a bit of a wiggling, but he was soon on his feet and walking to the Ural. Jake took the time to carefully inspect Roscoe to ensure he was all-good. Thankfully, the dog was ready to rock and roll.

It took two tries to get the motor started, as Jake looked closely, he was surprised to see the cylinder head temp gauges showing at the bottom of the scale. How long had he been out? How hard had they been hit?

The ride to the highway was along a small residential lane - many, but not all, of the houses had windows missing. At the highway intersection, there was no traffic - nothing. "Well, I don't know what this is all about, but we need to get to the kid's place and that may take a awhile, eh?" Roscoe barked his agreement and they set off down the road - toward whatever it held.

Jake kept his speed down, the road had been cleared, but still had ice in places. He spotted at least two wrecked cars before he was past the turnoff to the Interstate. He wasn't stupid enough to try that - that road would be clogged solid very soon, if not already. He wanted to get past Rivertown, over the river and then he could use the network of farm roads and byways to get nearly all the way to his destination.

He had spent almost all of his free time at the VA hospital planning what was to be his mid-summer retirement trip. Traveling by motorcycle he could camp or not and take the road less traveled. He had no idea at the time that his planning effort, pouring over all the maps he could find, could so quickly become critical to his survival. His maps and notes were carefully stored in his tank bag, he'd placed them there as soon as the ugly 'cycle had been unloaded at the cottage.

His son, Mike - not Michael, wife Poteet and the grandkids lived a bit over 300 miles from Bleakerville - if you could fly a crow there. Jake was driving and even in his most optimistic planning, he knew it would be at least two days of travel and hopefully, no fuel stops.

It took about an hour, but he was able to get past Rivertown with no issues. He was still ahead of the gust front - masses of people he knew would be fleeing from the big city to the north. He was lagging behind the locals that had already blown though to who knows where. How far ahead of the gust front, he had no idea. Stopping for a moment after clearing the bridge; he took that time to stand up, supported by the oversized foot platforms on the 'cycle. He reset the trip odometer to clue him when to start looking for the cutoff for the old River Road.

It would be a slower route, much slower - but one he saw that should be mostly free of traffic. Not found on any modern, so-called road maps and ignored by the GPS based mapping products, the old road was a mix of pavement and gravel that serviced the remote farms in the area. If he could find the turnoff. It wouldn't be marked, he had to find it on his own.

The terrain this close to the river was hilly, one small hill after another. He slowed as he approached each hillcrest - with the wrecks he'd already seen, he didn't want to find the road ahead suddenly blocked by another wreck. It was worth the time lost by being a little slow right now. His caution was rewarded when he crested this last hill - he could see two vehicles blocking the road ahead.

Something didn't look right. He stopped, then backed slowly - off the road and onto the shoulder. Looking around he spotted a clump of trees on the other side of the road that would allow him to park and screen his rig while he took a closer look the vehicles ahead. Engaging the sidehack drive wheel, he was soon peeking out between the leaves of the trees.

After pulling his little monocular from the tank bag, he carefully scanned the scene below. Now he could see clearly what tripped his concern, the vehicles were parked across the road, nose to tail, not quite on top of a road culvert. Anyone trying to pull past the rigs would likely become stuck in the ditch on either side of the road - one that might not be seen until it was too late. The question was - why?

Jake knew he had about three hours of good daylight, so he decided to wait a bit and see if he could bypass this now obvious roadblock. He put some water in Roscoe's dish and a double handful of kibbles in the other half of the bowl set. For himself, he opened the trunk and pulled out one of the self heating meals. As it bubbled away, he added some dry coffee to his canteen cup and water from one of the flasks. This might take a while and he wanted to be on the right side of his nutrition curve, full and with a load of coffee on board

As he ate this meal, he scanned the area below. Jake knew that an unmanned roadblock was worthless - someone had to be around. While the wind had turned warm, it was still chilly to be sitting or standing still in one position for long. Sure enough, before he had finished his coffee, someone stood up in the field off to the right side of the roadblock - someone with a shotgun. The person walked over to another position in the field, disappearing from view - soon what he assumed to be cigarette smoke puffed up, further marking the location of whoever lay in wait.

Jake now concentrated his scanning to the field on the left of the blockade. Nothing. Shaking his head, Jake said "Roscoe, is the guy that stupid?" If he ran up against even a small group that was paying attention and had a rifle - he was dead meat.

The why of the roadblock didn't matter to him right now. "OK boy, how do we get around the roadblock - get around it and still be in one piece that is." Roscoe just looked at him, then lapped up the last of his water - as if to say, "That's your job boss, I just do the dog stuff."

The stubble filled field he had been scanning evened out just before the treeline, a straight line of trees he suddenly realized. The trees must be a windbreak, planted long ago. Sure enough, there seemed to be a small track just inside the treeline, maybe a path for a tractor or other farm machinery. Just the thing for his small motorcycle.

It took more time than he liked, but Jake was able to backtrack a bit, finding a path off into the woods that soon lead him to a fence on the side of the field he had been scanning earlier. A bit more exploration revealed a section of fence that he could drop, not quite a gate, but it allowed access. Shutting down the motor, he once more began looking for the lone gunman on the other side of the vehicles. There it was, the telltale puff of smoke!

"Roscoe, that guy is as dumb as a box of rocks," Jake said as he looked for an exit point on the far side of the field. It would do no good to follow a track that took him into range of the sentinel's weapon. Satisfied of his path, he said, "OK boy. This is where you get out and walk, I want the sidehack as light as I can get it for now." When Jake pointed to the far side of the field, and gave the command "Find." Roscoe jumped out and started his move at a trot.

Scouting ahead of their humans was something Roscoe's line had done for generations - it was, literally, in their blood. An inborn skill, it was something they were very good at doing, Jake was a living testament to that very skill. It took only a few minutes, he could see Roscoe was across the field, and hadn't alerted on anything. He looked back to Jake as if to ask - "What now, boss?"

Jake used a double arm motion for "Down." The dog went to ground, facing Jake. After taking one last look, Jake started the motor and moved out smartly. The frozen ground was rough, slippery in spots, but thankfully not muddy. In two months, this would be close to impassable, full of mud and ruts - for now it was passable. Jake thought he had made it free and clear when he heard a distant 'boom'. The unknown guard was shooting at him!

Frozen ground splashed up about twenty yards away, close but not bad news yet. Jake hit the throttle, speeding up and bouncing so badly he was all but out of control. Cursing out load, he cut the throttle, almost stopping. That saved him - the ground just ahead grouted up, splashing shards of dirt onto the motorcycle. Jake now had no choice.

Turning the cycle to face the shooter, Jake had the carbine up to his shoulder seconds later. He snapped off two quick shots, then leaned forward. His shots had caused the other man to freeze - and Jake took that time to draw a bead on the shooter. Aiming just a bit high, he took two more single shots, this time spaced part by a heartbeat. The shooter disappeared.

Jake wasn't fooled, he kept the carbine up, front sight seeking a target - soon enough the other man popped back up to take a shot. Jake was firing as soon as he had movement. The sights on the carbine really were almost worthless past 100 meters, with no choice, he cranked off five more rounds. The other guy dropped out of sight.

"Good enough." said Jake as he started across the field once more. This time he was successful, on the far side of the field, a two lane track led off into the woods. Going slowly, Jake followed it, Roscoe trotting behind - both were surprised when the track dropped them back at the pavement.

"OK Roscoe, let's boogie while we can." After cutting off the sidehack drive, they motored away. Jake took a second to ponder the results of the shoot-out. The man hadn't reappeared after his last shots. Had Jake killed or wounded him? On the other hand, had the rifle fire caused him to reconsider the shooting match? Jake shrugged, in the end, didn't matter. The man had set an ambush, whatever had happened to him was moot at this point, Jake wanted only to go home.

There it was - a major intersection leading off to the right, away from the river. This had to be the river road. Jake turned to follow it, less than 50 feet later it turned into a dirt road. Cursing, Jake stopped the machine. Digging into the tank bag he pulled out one of the folded maps from an old DeLorme Gazetteer - this was not the road! The next right turn would be the correct road, Jake hoped he was right this time. He wanted to be down the road as far as he could get before sunset. Riding at night with his lights on was not going to be something he was willing to risk right now.

More to follow.

· Storyteller
6,177 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Chapter 1, end of chapter.

Minutes later, they were on River Road, heading away from the river and for the most part, civilization. Happily, they had not seen any traffic, at least up to now. Now all he had to watch for was someone else setting up an impromptu roadblock or other trap. This was going to be a longer trip than he'd hoped for at the start - he had no doubt that he and Roscoe would make it home, he just wasn't certain how long that would take.

His focus now was to find a good place to spend the night, out of the wind and screened from the road. Safe wasn't a word Jake would use. Alone - he and Roscoe could try and hide as best they could but without more people in their travel party, there would be no one watching at night, no pickets, no advance warning if danger approached. He could hope that Roscoe would alert him, but in the dark and in an unfamiliar place, he was always going to be at a disadvantage.

With the sun now casting their shadows in long lines, Jake was actively searching for somewhere to stop for the night; time was running out for being fussy. Off to the side, the roadbed dipped - as though cut. Jake stopped the machine, pulled off the road and shut off the motor. Something looked odd about the cut. While overgrown with brush, the cut was all gravel.

He picked up his carbine and told Roscoe to "Stay." The walk was welcome, if short. The cut was actually the path into what looked like a very old borrow pit. The gravel must have been used to make part of the roadbed, and then the works abandoned as the roadwork progressed. Heaps of gravel was still spotted around the pit and most important, it was dry. Jake looked to ensure his outfit could make it through the brush, satisfied, he was soon in the pit, motorcycle parked behind the largest of the gravel piles.

He took the time to walk back to the road to ensure that the 'cycle was really hidden, and then scanned the road both directions with his monocular. No driveways, no road cuts, there was nothing to indicate any other people, or buildings were near this spot.

"Well, boy, looks like we have a place to stay." He was happy enough to be in the pit. The wind had picked up and bits of snow were pelting his face now, it could get nasty before the night was over. As the last of the daylight faded, he had rigged a small trap across the motorcycle for a wind break and had his small tent put up in the calm air behind the lash-up. Roscoe's bed went to the front of his tent, horse blanket on top of that - he could only hope he would be as warm as his dog in the night. He removed one of the self-heating meal packs and the thermal flasks from the sidecar. Dinner, meatloaf and potatoes with coffee, was soon finished.

Jake pulled one of the Pelican cases from the sidehack and set it inside his tent. He took a minute and soon had a whip antenna attached the rear cargo rack. The little AT-271 had started life as part of a military HF radio set, now it was part of Jake's portable commo gear. The thin rod of metal represented a lifeline to his family.

He had gotten training in electronics as part of his VA rehab program, but all Jake had really done with the training was to get a ham license. It as a good hobby, one that had helped him reach out to his son after the divorce, and they had fun with radios for years. Cell coverage out here was spotty at best, and now - might not exist at all. He had planned to say in touch with Mike and Poteet with the ham set for fun as he traveled, now had to use it find out what was going on at home.

The case held radio, tuner, and battery - everything needed to communicate. The antenna lead went right to a small connector, and he was ready. A glance at his watch showed Jake he was a bit early, so he rolled out his sleeping bag and fluffed it up - it would keep him warm, but comfortable was questionable. He was old enough to appreciate a nice soft mattress.

He flipped the power switch, set the ear buds in place and began to tune around. The bands were in complete chaos. Moving down in frequency, things got quiet, no stations could be heard in the ham portion of the band. He tuned onto the frequency he and Mike had agreed on to be their contact frequency and listened. Nothing. He filled the memory keyer and let it send automatically - Mike's callsign, followed by "DE" then his callsign with the simple message, "Jake OK. Hdng hme."

After ten minutes, he listened again, no reply. He shut off the unit to conserve the battery and after pulling the antenna lead, sealed the case. The radio could safely sit out in the bad weather, his carbine could not, he placed next to him in the small tent. Jake fell asleep with the sound of snow whispering down the sides of his tent, wondering what the next day would bring.

The sound of a heavy diesel truck yanked him awake. He could see the beams of the headlights in the wisps snow high in the air. A second truck followed along sometime later, maybe by as little as ten minutes. As the roar of the exhaust faded away in the distance, Jake realized the snow had hidden any trace of their passage into the pit. He awoke again as sunlight played on the tent. A glace showed that Roscoe was curled up under his horse blanket, still asleep. Given the cold air, Jake decided a late start was worth staying warm a little longer.

Forced out of the bag by both hunger and a need to urinate, he was hit by the cold air. He made a note to himself to watch the roadside for any suitable trash he could use for a **** bottle. Getting up in the cold was no fun and could be dangerous if they were in a hide. Sitting in his bag he soon had the last of the hot water from one flask mixed with some oatmeal and sugar; a passable breakfast, if not the best. Now warmed by the hot meal, he was up and dressed as fast as he could manage.

Standing was tricky, but the motorcycle sidehack was enough to get him all the way up. He now had muscles that hurt in new and not so wonderful ways. He popped a couple of aspirin from his small first aid kit and took care of Roscoe. As the dog lapped up his kibbles that Jake had doused with hot water, the work to break camp and stow the gear started. It took longer than Jake had wanted, but he was sure once he had some kind of routine, he could perform the task quickly. That was, if he had the chance to get into a routine.

He topped off the tank rather than wait until it was low. He couldn't plan any stops and the last thing he wanted was to be caught low on fuel with a need to keep moving. He opened the fuel feed valve and hit the starter button. The Ural rumbled to life. Jake let it sit and idle several minutes. The bikes were notorious for backfires when cold and he didn't want to draw any attention as they took off. As soon as the CHT gauges showed life, he called to Roscoe to get in. A short stop at the top of the cut showed a road clear of traffic, and he pulled onto the roadway, staying as close to the center as he dared.

The breeze in his face soon warmed, snow melted into small puddles and the road stayed free of traffic. The road soon left the hills and opened out onto the flatter prairie. The open country offered the chance to see trouble in advance, but it also offered a clear view of the 'cycle as it wound its way across the plains. Jake could only hope the dull tan color and lack of height would reduce the chances of being spotted from any real distance.

The next test of this route would be when he passed through the smallish burg ahead. He supposed it would be a main street and a few houses, with a grain silo complex nearby - the map was old and sketchy in some areas. With any luck, he would be past it in a few minutes, but that was something Jake was unwilling to trust - luck. Once he topped one of the few high spots around, he stopped and took a long look with his handheld optic.

His map showed the burg should be less than a mile ahead, with the silo complex some distance away, near a railroad spur. All he could see in the distance was the pall of old smoke and not much else. Nothing moved, nothing was standing. The entire community was leveled.

"Well Roscoe, this looks like more than a little bad news," muttered Jake. At his name, Roscoe perked up. "Question now is, what to do?" He looked at the dog, "We could drive through and hope the place is really empty, or we could go around - that is only a few miles and so far, we have the gas." Not knowing what happened would eat at his gut, Jake knew this, but was it worth the risk of running into any survivors with the only transportation likely left running?

He glassed the area for a full half hour and saw nothing moving, just the odd bit of smoke caught by the now warm breeze. "Tell ya what boy, let's try driving through the town and see what we see?" However, before he started the motor, he pulled off the heavy jacket and put on a sweatshirt, strapping the harness for his pistol over that. The coat went into the sidehack and the M2 he slung over one shoulder, so the carbine was ready at hand on his lap. Full magazine in place, another full one in the sweatshirt's front pocket, he was as ready as he could make things.

The pass through town was anticlimactic. The town was as dead as it looked. He and Roscoe took a few minutes walk up the one side street to look closely at the burned ruins. Nothing. No bodies, no autos or trucks, just burned ruin. He wasn't about to go digging in the ashes, he didn't have the time or the tools. Things looked for all the world as though the residents had packed up and as they left, burned the place down - leaving nothing behind of value. He had to ask himself if the vision of the moon floating in the sky, well, what was left of it, had somehow driven them all mad? Did the trucks he heard rumble past last night have anything to do with this charred wasteland?

With no sense to be found in staying, the duo were on their way, heading for the next intersection that was on their route home. The ruins had held no clue, so Jake stayed more alert than ever. He did not want to run into whatever had leveled that town.

Before the next hour was gone, they saw another roadblock. This time, two large pieces of farm machinery were on the roadway, with other items littering the sides of the road. He could see a cluster of farm buildings off in the distance, but the main road was blocked, not the road leading to the buildings. This was going to get very old, fast.

Jake stopped well short of the blockade, he couldn't see anyone - but that meant nothing. Rather than dither, he turned the cycle onto the field next to road and went out to where he figured he was at least out of shotgun range. There was no fencing, and the open range, nearly as hard as rock, offered the fast way around the block. Jake stopped just past the pile of machinery and looked hard with his optic. Nothing, no people, just - nothing.

Again, with nothing to look at, they were quickly back on the road and heading away from the flats. By the time lunch rolled around, Jake figured they had made almost 50 miles that morning. Being careful meant being slow, but he could live with that. He would intersect the river road again in the nearby hills, so he took some time to study the maps he had at hand and let Roscoe run for a bit. Movement in the distance caught his eye.

A long railroad train crawled across the distant horizon, going somewhere. That caused him to pause, had he overestimated the reaction to the missing bits of the moon or the risk to his travel? Was the burned out town just a fire gone wild? He had to know more. Driving the cycle off the road until it shrank into just a small ribbon in the distance, Jake shut off the bike after pointing it into the wind. Pulling out his radio case, he soon had the radio set looking for signals. With no electrical wires or other sources of interference, the set was eerily silent. Finally, he switched out the ham band module and put in the World Band module. What he heard was horrific.

China was gone, along with Burma and parts of India. Brazil and Bolivia were gone, Chile was being racked by ongoing massive earthquakes and Peru - silent. Pakistan had nuked what was left of India and the world was on fire, or so it seemed. Pieces of the moon would soon start to land - the remaining scientific community was trying to sort out impact zones - it was all too much. The Chërnyi, the Russians called it, some evil monster of myth had arrived, killing all that it touched.

Barking shook him out of his reverie - Roscoe had seen something, what? As Jake looked around, he was shocked at how late it had become. He must have sat for most of the day trying to take in the horror. What had alerted the dog? Then he saw it, a long string of cars, all rushing toward him! It took a second to realize he was well off the road, likely all but invisible the cluster of autos.

He crawled to back of the cycle, not wanting to stand. Whistling, Jake called Roscoe. They sat in the shade of the motorcycle watching the cars roar down the road, at least twenty of them. They were out of sight in minutes. Clearly, the roadblock had been no impediment; they had the numbers to flank anything he'd seen.

Their presence made a hash out of Jake's plans now. He had to stay off that road until he was certain of the situation. Being alone sharply limited his options; it was time to reset his travel plans. He dug out the maps and once more poured over the fine details. It only took him a few minutes pinpoint his location, more or less - then came the hard part. How to get home?

After looking at all of possible options, heading to the family cabin at Adobe Creek lake seemed to be his first and best bet. He had the gasoline to get at least that far; he could avoid any river crossings, and better yet - avoid any real population centers. He could follow the roadbed of a long-abandoned railroad spur that just about reached Adobe Creek lake. Small farm roads would supply the last bit of roadway.

The area around Adobe Creek was desolate, full of abandoned dry-land farms and rotted infrastructure, but it offered him the thing he would need most - distance. If the world was in melt down, the cabin offered a good place to sit out the worst of the chaos.

He and Mike had talked at length about using the cabin as a retreat if the gangs in the city got out of hand. Getting there cross-country was going to be a bit difficult because the area was so flat - navigation landmarks were few and far between. Before he could sort out travel plans, a deep rumble reminded him that breakfast had been a long time ago.

That forced him to look hard at his supplies. He had assumed on his 'vacation' trip that he could stop for water in any number of places, camping as it struck him and picking up more food at any of the small town markets or maybe even the odd roadside farmers outlet.

He stopped to feed and water Roscoe, that was a given. Other than water, the dog was good for at least a month, maybe more. "Jake," he mused aloud, "Well, Jake is another matter altogether." In the end, he settled for the last self-heating meal with a couple of the pilot bread crackers. He would save the last of the hot water for breakfast.

He used the last of the fading daylight to rig his tarp and used Roscoe's horse blanket to better insulate his sleeping bag. He didn't bother with the tent, the sky was clear, and the breeze was still warm - both signs, he hoped, of an early Spring. He let Roscoe sleep in the sidehack; it would keep him out of the wind and maybe help him hear anything approaching.

Jake slept like ****. He finally gave up and as the sun started putting out feeble rays of light, he had everything packed and ready to roll. As the engine idled to warm, he took one last look at the map and his waypoint notes. The oatmeal had actually been filling and it seemed to have lifted his sprits a bit.

"OK boy, hop in, time to go!" he shouted at Roscoe. The Shepard trotted over and jumped into the sidehack, alert and ready to go. Checking that the sidehack drive wheel was engaged, Jake pulled the gear shift lever, dropping the rig into first and took off - slowly - across the desolate plain. He followed the road only for a mile or two, then pulled off onto a track that might have been missed if not for the low angle of the sun. Going slowly, so as not to raise any dust, he kept on the track for the better part of the morning.

He finally hit his target, a buried gas pipeline, invisible from the road. He knew this pipeline passed near Bleakerville, then headed South, eventually ending in the Mohave desert at a power station. The line originated just at the Canadian border, but more importantly, the line followed the abandoned railroad bed by the cabin for quite some distance. He remembered the controversy years earlier when the line was planned, he luckily remembered enough of the stories to be able to make notes on his DeLorme maps.

He would still have to cross at least one major State highway, but he would be able to see well in advance of any issues, or at least he hoped so. The line had been buried over a decade earlier, so the right of way had some growth but is was a solid base to drive on. Unless you knew what to look for, it was nearly invisible, perfect for Jake and Roscoe.

As noon approached, Jake stopped for a head break and used the time to top off the tank, check the oil and kick the tires - fortunately the little Ural had been purring along. He found that he had a bit more gas in the tank than he had counted upon. That piece of good news made the afternoon brighter. He would soon hit a farm road, where he could cut across a large curving loop in the gas line and then it would be time to eat again - once well away from the road. He would have to watch carefully as there were several farmsteads marked on the map. He would be some distance from the properties while on the road, so he expected no problems.

The dust cloud on the road ahead spelled trouble on two counts. He didn't know how many vehicles were making the dust, second, he had no idea on how they would react to his presence. Jake slowed and when he spotted a wide spot in roadway, pulled off the side. He ordered Roscoe to the other side of the road and added - "Down. Stay." He popped the M2 out of it's clamp and set in loosely in the sidehack, at hand, but out of sight to an oncoming driver. The .45 went into his strong side "boot."

He then tried to his damnest to look a tourist - opening his map onto his lap. With luck, the vehicle or vehicles would pass him by. Otherwise, it was a crapshoot. He didn't want trouble, he just wanted to get to his family.

Jake rolled a natural Seven.

The vehicle turned out to a massive stake bed truck pulling a horse trailer, both heavily loaded. As the driver of the vehicle spotted the motorcycle, he slowed, then stopped. It took a minute for the dust to roll past, the driver leaned out the window.

"Son, you-all lost out here? This is long way from the city." He tone was neutral, and the fact that he stopped showed he didn't expect any trouble. In the truck were two children, teens maybe, and a woman Jake took to be the man's wife.

"Thanks, I'd like to think of it as just a bit misplaced." He waved the map, "I think I have it figured out."

"You need anything?" The question seemed genuine, folks this far out tended to be helpful where they could.

Jake gave the man a lopsided grin. "Well since you asked, do you have any gas I could buy? I have a bit, but out here, a little extra is nice to have - you know, in case you get lost or something. Oh, and is there any water nearby, I am about out."

At that, the man laughed openly. He shut off the truck and opened the door, Jake only bothered to watch his hands. The man walked to the back of the truck and pulled down a red colored Jerry can. "How much do you need?"

"Just a couple of gallons would be great!" It took him a second to get off the bike and pull the one empty gas can from the sidehack. Five minutes later he put the full can back in place, the extra two and a half gallons could be a lifesaver.

Jake asked the man, "How much I owe you for the gas?" The answer was a shock.

"Nothing, glad to help."

At Jake's startled look, the man went on. Pointing to Jakes legs he said, "My son got him set just about like that from the VA last year. El Anbar province - ******* IED. You?"

"Russian grenade, still can't say where, you know?" The bastard that threw it was good and dead, Jake had made certain of that.

The man spit on the ground and mumbled something about f'ing politicians. He stuck out his hand and said, "By the way, name's Ted Brewster, Class of 90. 0311"

As they shook hands, his reply was, "Jake Weinstein, class of 67. 0311 - Semper Fi."

At this, the rest of the folks climbed out of the truck. The kids headed straight for the motorcycle, looking closely, but not standing too near. The woman introduced herself as Ashley. Ted looked at Jake and asked, "If you don't mind me asking, what the hell are you doing way the hell out here?"

Jake made a face, then said "I hate to answer with a question, but have you listened to any news in the last couple of days?"

"Ya, we have. ****'s in the fan all over. We're headed back toward the city to get my son and head out to a place we know outside of Greenville, up in the hills a ways. How about you?"

"Pretty much the same, I have a place, we call it a cabin, it's an old homestead. Pretty far off the beaten path, hope to have the kids and grandkids show up in the next day or so. I'm driving in from Bleakerville."

"How bad is it out that way?"

"I honestly can't say. I got the hell on the dodge just after the moon came up couple of days ago. I've stayed off the beaten path - the only traffic I saw was a convoy of about 20 vehicles headed into the hills - going north at high speed. Ran across a couple of roadblocks on the way here - one was manned and one deserted. I don't have any access to local news, all my stuff is short wave."

As Ted rubbed his face, Ashley asked "Do you think we'll hit any trouble? The radio said there were terrible riots in the city and that the fighting might spread..."

"Maybe you will, maybe you won't. Traveling singleton likely isn't safe - I'm doing it as I have no real choice. Do you have friends in the area that might travel with you?" By themselves, the family could be easy pickings for thugs.

"Yes, we are on our way over to the Lambert's place, then we'll head out together."

"That's great, right now I'd guess there is safety in numbers. Ahh," looking around, Jake could see no weapons - "Do you folks have anything for protection?"

Ted grimaced, then looked at his wife. "Ya, we got a .22 rifle. Single shot."

Jake held up a finger. "OK, I think I can help with that." Going over the Ural, he opened the trunk, and pulled out the smaller of the two bags that had been under the cottage floorboards.

Walking back he handed it to Ted. "Browning HiPower, two magazines and a box of +P hollow points, sorry, no holster. Not much, but..." he let his words hang.

Ted flinched again - "Thanks, but that's more than I could ask..."

Jake cut him off - "Call it good for the gas then." He pointed to the children, now standing wide-eyed. "Or a birthday present - so they can have one next year, eh?"

"Gas ain't worth all that much. Will you take the .22?"

"Nope, you are going to need the rifle and in two days the gas will be worth that and more. Tell you what, point me to where can I get some water and we'll call it good."

"Our place is down the road about six miles or so, water is in a tank out back of the house. You can stay there for a while if you want, help yourself to the garden as well."

"Great, I'll get some water and then be on my way. I appreciate the help."

After another round of handshakes, the Brewsters took off. Jake could only hope they made it to Greenville. The Browning might help them and it was something he'd brought along to barter with anyway. He had a full gas can, a water source and maybe some fresh eats - he'd gotten the better part of the deal.

With Roscoe sitting beside him, they made it to the Brewster place in just a few minutes. The outfit itself was just a double-wide, a small corral - empty, and a garage/barn building off the side. He shook his head, how the hell anyone could make a living out here was a wonder. True to Ted's word, there was large tank out back and it was full of sweet, cold water. Before he filled his jugs, Jake took some time to explore the little homestead. He soon found a trash heap, next to a burn barrel, and to his delight, a pile of two liter soda bottles.

It took two hours, but he fixed lunch on the home's gas stove - fried SPAM, with potatoes, green beans and snow peas from the garden and water. After dithering for a bit, he pulled a short tub of water and took a quick bath. Getting the dirt and girt off of his hide was wonderful. He rinsed his dirty clothes in the wash water before draining the tub. These went on the line outside the front door before he tackled the kitchen.

He washed out the soda bottles at the same time he cleaned up from lunch. Before he left, every open space on the cycle was stuffed with bottles of water, potatoes and other garden goodies. He took nothing from the home other than the trash. Roscoe had eaten his fill and lapped up all the water in his bowl twice as if he were assuming this was the last of the good food.

After storing his clothes and double checking the Ural one last time, they hit the road. They were soon back on the cross-country path of the gas line. Late in the afternoon, Jake could see the highway where the line crossed. He stopped on the military crest of a low hill about a mile from the road and spent several minutes looking at the roadway, and watching for any traffic.

In the ten minutes he observed the highway, three groups of cars roared past, all dong well over 60 mph, if he were to guess. The cars were running in clusters, seemingly independent of each other. None slowed or showed any indication they had seen him, but that meant nothing. Now he had to make a choice. Cross now or wait until dark. He would have to wait more than an hour and it would force him to travel in the dark, which meant using the headlight. "Crap," he thought, "some vacation joy ride."


I was hoping for more comments from readers?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.


· Storyteller
6,177 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I like how you're venturing off and going over the other characters that were introduced in your first story. Snake and Roscoe are a fun pair to read about.
The next book, Pedro Six Two follows the aircrew as they work thru things. Lots of action there as well.

Thanks for the comment.

· Storyteller
6,177 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'll post the second half of the chapter later. I don't know why but posting even this took over an hour, a reboot and logging in several times.

ETA - Seems like a few folks here have picked up a copy of the books. If that is the case, please drop me a PM, I'd like to hear from you. Not a sales pitch, just curiosity on my part on how you liked the book.

Oh well - enjoy.


· Storyteller
6,177 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Before anyone jumps up and screams "that's illegal" over the split radio's not. It may seem to be not following "common practice" but it is legal. In many areas of the US, this kind of "split" isn't uncommon...

A decent site talks to this part of the Amateur Service rules -

Under 47 CFR, Part 97, my two fictional hams are in fact breaking the rules with their word games.and failure to ID their stations.

These unidentified transmissions are in violation of Section 97.101(d) of the Commission's Rules (``Rules''), 47 C.F.R. Section 97.101(d), and transmitted unidentified communications in apparent willful violation of Section 97.119(a) of the Rules, 47 C.F.R. Section 97.119(a). They also apparently failed to operate their Amateur station in accordance with "good Amateur practice", in violation of Section 97.101(a) of the Rules, 47 C.F.R. Section 97.101(a), and operated in apparent violation of Section 97.113(a)(4) of the Rules (prohibited transmissions), 47 C.F.R. Section

Remember - this is fiction. In real life, fines start at 10K dollars....per violation.

If you want to split hairs, you'll find no takers here. Break the rules, and you pay the price. As for the story - call it artistic license....

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I've read some of your other parts of this series and I like this one better so far. They're prepared but not overly so and it doesn't read like a gun fest. The characters seem real. I'm glad Poteet pointed out that Jake could have done more with the group he helped. I'd like to think that even when society is in the tank that some shred of humanity remains in the people who survive. Realistically, I'm sure there won't be. I particularly liked how Poteet defended her children when they were with the military.

I'll keep reading and commenting if you want. If you want specific feedback let me know.

I really need to buy your books and read them in sequence.
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