The climb out to the top of the ridge was illuminated gently by the moonlight. Gary took the lead, with April following, her eyes focused on the gray backpack less than a foot away and her gloved hands clamped onto him for guidance. Reaching the crest and into the trees, the pair tried on the night vision goggles, which turned the already moonlit night into a bright green, surreal electronic image.
“These goggles are pretty cool, don’t you think?” Gary asked
“Yeah, but it kind of messes up my depth perception; I guess after a while I’ll get used to them.” April answered, holding her arms out and waving them as she tried to get a feel for the optics.
“We’ll use them until we reach the base of the mountain and out of these trees; then it should be easy going with the moon light.”
Walking in the shin deep snow presented a physical challenge, although due to the adrenalin of their earlier than planned exit from the cave; it wasn’t as bad as Gary had expected. The climb out along the granite ledge wasn’t icy, that was Gary’s real concern. Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, they stopped of a few minutes to catch their breath and quickly gulp some water before heading down the slope. Gary started down first, side stepping down the snow slick grade. Taking three or four steps, his feet slipped and landing on his side, he started to roll, sliding and tumbling down to the bottom, landing with a lung emptying thud.
Gary sat up and wiped the snow off of his face and spit out what he thought was blood from biting the inside of his lip. The night vision goggles were twisted around to the back of his head. Taking them off and replacing them with his fogged up glasses, he heard April start to make the descent.
“Are you OK?” April said cupping her hands around her mouth.
“Yeah, I’m alright. It’s kinda slick, so be careful”
April took the easy way, sitting down and using her rear end to slide down the hill. Landing at the bottom she gracefully stood up and walked over to Gary like she had practiced that maneuver many times.
“You made that look too easy. That probably would be a good hill to go sledding or tubing on.” Gary said
“Come on old man, let’s go” April smiled and reached her hand out to Gary helping him up. Trying to get his bearings by the stars or any other landmark he might recognize, the pair started off through the woods towards the railroad tracks. Once they reached the tree-line; Gary and April stayed back a few feet, making sure that no one had set up an ambush or a road block. They were at the mouth of the valley split and had an asphalt road about 100 yards through a field to their left; ahead of them about 400 yards away were the railroad tracks and the gravel access road. Trying his best, Gary could only guess at the condition of the roads, were they plowed? Or covered with snow? If the roads weren’t plowed, their tracks could easily be followed.
“Alright, we need to cross over to the road quickly “Gary said softly to April and pointed to the field and then swept his arm towards the train tracks. “The tracks look to be about 400 yards ahead, so let’s move as fast as we can. Now, if we see any cars, get off the road immediately. When we get to the tracks, we move south until we are out of sight of the road, ok”
“You do know that there is a curfew on, right?” April said
“No, I didn’t”
“Only commercial trucks, emergency vehicles and military are allowed from 6pm until 6am.”
Gary nodded at the news. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah” April said taking a deep breath.
Gary and April moved out together through the brushy field, finding that the snow varied in depth from the tops of their boots to their knees. April stepped into the impressions Gary was making, and did her best to avoid any more encounters with blackberry bushes and their thorns. Progress was excruciatingly slow, but eventually they made the road. Pausing for a moment and seeing that the road was not plowed, they slowly jogged to the tracks, leaving a wake of footprints. They reached the tracks and turned left; heading south towards town. Fast walking down the middle of the railroad tracks and slipping on the uneven slick cross ties slowed the pair to a briskly paced walk. Gary and April walked abreast and slowed to catch their breaths.
“Whew are you alright?” Gary stopped and bent over with his hands on his knees asked catching his breath. He unzipped his coat to cool off and wiped the sweat from his brow on his sleeve.
“Yeah, I’m working up a sweat with this back pack.” April also unzipped her jacket, flapping it to bring in some cooling air.
“Let’s take a drink and rest for a minute, ok?”
Walking across the access road, they set their packs down and took a 10 minute breather at the edge of the trees.
“Gary, why don’t we go down the access road? It sure would be easier.” April said, after taking a long drink on the canteen.
“I know it would, however, they haven’t plowed the access road; so anyone that’s coming down it would be able to track us easily. There is a freight train that runs this line early in the morning a couple times a week. It’s due today and if we’re lucky it will rub out our tracks.”
Taking in some water and feeling slightly refreshed, Gary checked the muzzle of his rifle for any snow or mud that might have plugged it. Using the small LED light on his coat, and shielding the light from outside view the best he could, temporarily blinded his night vision. They were making slow progress, but progress none the less. As they continued on, signs of Simmonsville gradually appeared. The woods and brush covered fields gave way to farms and their unbroken snow covered fields. Conscious of making noise and alerting any dogs, the pair walked abreast, rifle at the ready and alert.
Coming into town along the train tracks gave a different perspective of Simmonsville. The homes they passed and the businesses gave an interesting view of their back doors and back yards. The town slept quietly, even in normal times they roll up the side walks at 8 o’clock. The tracks eventually split into two sets, with one being the main line, which was the track that Gary and April were on and the side track is used for bringing a box car or a flat car and parking it behind the Feed Store. It was through this side line that the rail road company would off load tractors and other farm implements along with large quantities of feed and supplies.
The rear of the Feed Company had a chain link fence around the rear two thirds of the property. This is where they had parked tractors and the large farm machines that were for sale, the front third looked to be the retail section of the store. The back of the warehouse opened towards the tracks by a large sliding wooden door set on steel rollers. Gary jumped up onto the loading dock and checked the back door, it was securely locked. He motioned for April to come up.
“I think we have a few options here. First of all we could bust into the warehouse and stay there; however, there might be an alarm. Or we could skip this place and cross the tracks and find somewhere in that field over there we could hide. I don’t like that as it is out in the open and it’s pretty cold. Or we can climb the fence and find a place around those tractors and wait there.” Gary thought about their choices and decided that finding somewhere inside the fenced area would be the best. “I’ll go over first and then you send the Garand and packs over, then I’ll help you.”
April had her arms crossed trying to shake off the cold. “Let’s find someplace warm, ok?”
April did very well on the hike out and now the cold was starting to chill their sweaty bodies, so they needed to get into shelter quickly. Taking his pack off and handing the Garand and the pack to April, Gary found and rolled a 55 gallon oil drum up to the fence. Hopping up; he climbed up and over the fence.
“Ok, hand me the rifle, be careful ok?” Gary did not want his Garand to end up muzzle first on the ground and risk having it plugged with dirt or the crown damaged. April carefully lifted the up rifle and holding onto the sling, lowered it to Gary who had climbed up the fence to receive it. April and Gary then did the same with the packs. April climbed up and reaching the top, got hung up on an exposed piece of the wire fence.
“I’m stuck, Gary” April didn’t sound scared about it, she just said it in a matter of fact tone.
“I’ll help you, hold on.” Gary climbed up and taking Aprils legs started to push her up so she could remove herself. When she did, she released and fell on top of Gary knocking him to the ground. “Ohhh…that hurt.”
“Are you ok? Don’t you even think of making a joke about my weight.” April rolled off of Gary and got up. Reaching down she helped him off his back and onto this feet.
“Me? Make a joke about a woman’s weight? It never crossed my mind.” Gary said softly laughing.
April punched him in the arm “You better not.”
Gary looked around and saw the gate which opened up the enclosed area where they were. Noticing tire tracks in the snow, Gary figured this is where Mr. Johns parked his car and the door to the side would be where he came in every day. Looking over to the right Gary saw two dumpsters and went over to check them out. “April, come here.” Gary opened one and using his small flashlight saw that it was a recycling bin for flattened cardboard boxes. Trying not to disturb the snow covered lid, “This is where we’ll hide. Hold this open while I climb in and then hand me the stuff.” Gary quickly climbed into the dumpster and April handed the packs and the battle rifle, then she climbed in and they lowered the lid. It was as dark as the cave, but smelled like cardboard and oil products.
Gary took the light and holding his hand in front of the lens to block most of the light, Gary and April smiled; they had made it with no problems. “Lets open up one of those MRE’s, are you hungry?”
“I’m starving and really thirsty.” April drank heartily from the canteen and passed it back to Gary, and then they both ate a chicken and rice meal.
Gary laid the Garand behind April and unbuckled his holstered Kimber .45 pistol. Thinking that we would go for the Kimber if it was needed, being that they were in tight quarters. April sat shivering.
“Lets wrap up in the blanket; you look like you’re really cold.” Said Gary
“I am freezing.” April chattered softly
The pair wrapped in the blanket and finished their MRE in silence. Snuggling up to each other out of love and for warmth, Gary and April wrapped their arms around each other inside their coats and nestled in amongst the cardboard.
Gary closed his eyes and whispered to her “Maybe we could try to get some rest.” Looking at his watch “It’s 3:25, I don’t know about you, but I’m beat. You know, us ‘old men’ need our beauty rest.’ Gary chuckled
“I didn’t mean you are old, I was just joking, I’m sorry.” April thought she hurt Gary’s feelings…she didn’t
“Hey, that’s alright; you’re as young as you feel, right?” Come on, let’s try to sleep.” Gary and April knew that the day ahead could very well be deadly, as every day from here on out had the possibility to become. They briefly kissed and held each other even tighter, drifting off to sleep.
Gary found himself sitting on the cool maple hardwood floor of his living room and was flanked on both sides with Barbie dolls, stuffed animals and multi colored My Little Pony’s. In front of him was a pink flowered plastic tea set. Ruthie, dressed in a pink princess dress complete with a tiara and wearing a pair of plastic princess slippers; noisily clomped into the room carefully carrying a tray with half filled tea cups.
“Hi sweetie, how are you?”
“Hi Daddy. Do you want to play with me?”
“Sure, what are we playing; dress up?”
“Ok, so are we having real tea?”
“No, we’re having lema-lade”
“Ummm, lema-lade, sounds good. I love your lemonade”
“It’s not real lema-lade Dad, its pretend lema-lade, it’s really water.”
Gary laughed and taking the half filled tea cup made an exaggerated slurping sound as he drank the water. “Very tasty lema-lade baby”
“Daddy…” Ruthie paused briefly “…why are some people bad and some people good?”
Gary was taken back by a question that regular folk and scholars have debated for eons. “Honey, I don’t really know.”
“Luca says that it’s our hu…hu…”
“Yes, that’s it, human nature. What does that mean?”
“Well, I guess that it means that some people for whatever reasons choose to do bad things and some people choose to do good, I guess. I don’t really know how to explain it honey. Luca told you about human nature? So is Luca one of your friends?”
“Oh yes, he is very nice and he helps me to help you. Daddy, a lot of people are coming here all the time now.”
“I know pumpkin; I’m trying my best to see that it doesn’t happen.”
“We know you are Daddy, and we are all very proud of you.”
“Luca says that a lot more will be coming here soon.” Ruthie got quiet and thoughtful as only a four year old could “Daddy, will you do me a favorite?”
“A favorite? You mean a favor? Sure I will, what do you want?”
Ruthie nodded her head yes. “Will you pretend?”
“Pretend what sweetie?”
“1,000 feet and turning on final. Flaps down all the way, engine throttled back to 25%, landing gear lowered. 500 feet and 115 miles per hour…crossing threshold now…200 feet, 100 miles per hour, 100 feet, 50 feet…and touchdown…apply brakes, slowing 60, 50 40 and…stop... Ground Control you have control of Cherokee flight” The Flight Controller had completed another successful landing of the UAV Global Hawk E at Sargodha Air Base, located west of Lahore Pakistan.
The large ugly aircraft stopped on the center line of the 10,000 foot runway after using 5,000 feet of it for its landing. The Ground Control crew drove a small tractor tug out to the plane and attached a tow bar to the Hawks front landing gear. The craft was too large to complete a full turn on the runway, so the tug simply and slowly drove to the nearest taxiway and manually taxied the bird back to a large open door hangar. Inside the hangar two similar Global Hawk E’s were sitting with their avionics and weapons bay doors opened. They all had various cables attached and the white coated technicians were scurrying about looking at computer monitors and checking everything from the engine to the brakes.
“Captain, these Hawks certainly are different than the other Hawks and F-16 fighter jets we are used to having here” Sergeant Ali looked at the Captain who was watching the towed Hawk being brought into the hangar.
“That they are Sergeant. We’ve received three so far and have another three that are being built.” Captain Maqqi said to the elder soldier. “This aircraft and its weapons will give the UN and us unprecedented projection of power, something that only the United States, Russia and China have had. Sergeant in a week or so; we will truly be a Superpower. Would you like to know what you are looking at Sergeant? besides Allah’s will coming full force?”
“The YRQ-4E Global Hawk is a variation of the Q4-A Global Hawk which you have already seen. The ‘E’ means ‘Enhanced’. The ‘E’s size has been increased by about fifty percent, this gives us increased payload capacity and extended range. With a full fuel load and under ideal conditions its range is almost 16,000 miles. This plane is similar to the standard version in that it is fully automated. We can program its flight and it does it all, except take off and land. That means Sergeant, we can take off from here and fly to New York and return without refueling. Now, because we have control of many airfields in the US, we can fly from here and refuel there, giving us a worldwide range.”
Captain Maqqi waited for a response from the awe struck Sergeant, and continued “Now do you see the gray and white missiles on those carts inside? “Captain Maqqi pointed towards the missiles “They are American tactical cruise missiles that we have obtained from the UN. They originally came to us with conventional 3,000 lb warheads, and we are retrofitting them with nuclear warheads, which we have built ourselves and also received from our friends in Iran and North Korea. The cruise missiles themselves have a range of over 1,500 miles. We have three types of warheads at our disposal Sergeant; 150 Kiloton, 5 Kiloton and a 1 Kiloton Enhanced Radiation weapon, sometimes called a Neutron Bomb.” As an after thought, he added “The Hawk is also armed with six AMRAAM air to air missiles. You are looking at the birth and fruition of the UN and us as a world power, Sergeant.”
“Praise Allah Captain.” Sergeant Ali paused for a moment “Captain, why do we need three different types of nuclear weapons, wouldn’t one suffice?”
Captain Maqqi enjoyed sharing his knowledge with the Sergeant “Sergeant we need three for various targets. Using New York City as an example, the 150 Kt weapon will destroy most of the city, rendering it useless for hundreds of years. The 5 Kt weapons, which are the size of a suitcase bomb, can take out a few city blocks. It will kill a lot of people, but will leave some of the city useful. The Enhanced weapon will still blow out some buildings, but its radiation is different in that it goes through hardened structures and kills people, but dissipates quickly leaving the area available for occupation within a month or so. The Enhanced weapon would be useful for say, a submarine base, where we wanted to occupy it afterwards.
“Praise Allah!” Sergeant Ali felt humbled at seeing what he thought was Allah’s will first hand.
“Yes Sergeant, Praise Allah! We are readying the 5 Kt weapon for a test. I want to make sure that everything is operational.”
“The 5Kt weapon hasn’t been tested yet?”
“We know how the 150 Kt weapon functions but the smaller weapon is new and General Santana has ordered a test.”
“Very good Captain, I will make sure my men perform to your expectations.”
UN Secretary General Santana and his aide Kendai Obama stood in the now empty West Wing of the White House. Talking on a secure cell phone “Madame President, are you and your cabinet settled into your new quarters yet?”
“Yes, we are General. This is different from Mt. Weather, a little more cramped but functional.” President Chase and her cabinet only felt safe in the underground shelter.
“Madame President I am afraid I have some scary news. Our intelligence indicates that the rebels are constructing a nuclear bomb. We don’t know as of yet where they are located, or what their intended target is. My assumption is that they are trying to kill you with it.”
“Good God! General Santana, do you think they will actually use this?”
“I hope not Maam. We have already seen what nuclear weapons do to people and the environment. The nuclear submarines that have been lost by the Navy will eventually contaminate the oceans and destroy substantial life forms.”
“Do you have any information yet on how those subs were lost?”
“Our best guess Madame President is that it was human error.” General Santana let his assumptions run its course with the President. “Madame President, how long will you allow your military, with it’s huge arsenal of earth destroying nuclear weapons, run around with no accountability, being completely unchecked?”
President Chase thought for a moment and the image of someone trying to use a nuclear weapon to try to kill her or her government, frightened her tremendously. “You are right General. What do you suggest?”
“Madame President, we can have some of our personnel alongside of your military to act as ‘Observers’”
“I like that idea General and will pass the orders immediately.”
The dumpster rumbled from the ground…HOOOONK...HOOOONK. The early morning freight train announced its arrival to the rail road crossing after passing a few feet away from the sleeping pair. Gary and April woke up startled. Gary reached over and took hold of the Kimber pistol, not fully awake. Realizing what the noise and vibration was from; Gary settled back onto the flattened cardboard.
April sat up “Did you have another dream? You were really tossing around.”
“Yeah, I saw Ruthi again, we played tea party.” Gary said smiling at the memories of his daughter.
“Anything else?” April asked, knowing that Gary’s dreams told of past horrors.
“You know; when I first stared getting these dreams, they were of the past. Now I think they are of the future. I don’t think I could have handled everything all at once, so these dreams are like pieces of a puzzle.” Gary sat silent for a moment “They’ve gotten nuclear weapons, and I think they are going to use them.”
April hugged Gary “Oh God, what can we do?”
“We are going to continue on with our plan, that’s what we are going to do.”
Outside there came another rumbling and vibration. The sound of this noise was different than low rumble of the train; this noise was higher pitched and resembled a jet engine. Gary sat up and lifted the lid of the dumpster slightly to peek out.
Gary saw on the road in front of the store an M1 Abrams tank driving past. “Great…just great.” He spoke too soon as there were five more followed by six 5 ton 6X6 trucks carrying troops, two Hum-vee’s and four Bradley Fighting vehicles. “Whoa, that’s some serious armor. I wonder where they are headed.”
“It looks like they are heading to Ft Ritchie. Maybe they are going to look for us?” April said as she was also peeking out at the convoy, which was now past the Feed store.
Gary and April sat back and closed the lid. After a few minutes another sound attracted their attention, the sound of the front fence being opened and moved. Gary peeked out and saw a new Chevrolet Crew Cab pick up truck drive into the enclosed area and park against the building.
“I think Mr. Johns just pulled in.” Gary said. “Is that him?”
“April peeked out “Yes”
Gary and April waited a few minutes for Mr. Johns to go inside and then they made their move. Gary went first, climbing out of the dumpster followed by April. Gary had the Garand against his body, trying to hide it in case some one was watching. April had both packs and they moved quickly towards the office door. Reaching the door, Gary opened it and they both walked in to an empty and dark hallway. Gary led April and they crept along the hall. Lights began to turn on in other parts of the warehouse, as Mr. Johns was getting the store ready for the morning’s business. They passed the office and found themselves in the warehouse. Looking towards the source of the light switch noises, Gary grabbed April by her arm and led her to one of many stacks of shrink wrapped feed and seed pallets. April stood on the outside of the pallet with Gary crouched behind her, out of sight.
Gary had given thought about this meeting and decided that if Mr. Johns gave any indication that he had something to do with April’s family’s death, he would kill him and they would take his truck and drive to Georgia. Gary set the Garand down and unzipped his jacket; quietly withdrawing the silenced Ruger.
Mr. Johns walked into view and glanced over to April. “Holy Crap!” Mr. Johns was startled at seeing someone in the store “April? April Finney…is it really you?” Mr. Johns came over and reached out his arms and wrapped them around her “Oh my God, I am so glad you are alive, and I am so very sorry about your Mom, Dad and brother.” Mr. Johns started to ask questions, and then he saw Gary stand up behind April. Mr. Johns looked at Gary and then said “Hello…You look familiar”
“I was here a few months ago.” Gary said holding the pistol behind his back
“I remember now, you came in with Farmer John. You bought some stuff from Cabelas if I recall.”
“That’s me. How is Farmer John?”
“He’s fine and feisty as always. Mister, I am glad to see you again…” Mr. Johns paused momentarily “…I want to apologize to you. When you came in last, I overcharged you and that was wrong. When you left, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I couldn’t get YOU out of my mind either. I mean; I’ve seen lots of people come through town, but you…you are different. Anyway mister…whatever I have…is yours.” Mr. Johns looked down as he was ashamed for what he did.
Gary looked at the man; holstered the Ruger and extended his hand “My name is Gary…Gary Martin”
“Will Johns…please call me Will” Will extended his hand and shook Gary’s.
“Will…April and I need your help. We need to head south and soon. Can you help us?”
Will smiling said “Gary, I’d be more than happy to help you and April. I know someone that is really good with this kind of thing, if you would pardon me for a moment.” Will went over to a wall mounted telephone and dialed. “Hi, I just got in the special food for that sick horse you have. I’ll be over in a bit.”
As Will was talking on the phone, April looked at Gary with her head cocked and one eye half closed and lips tight, giving him a “you did wrong, buster’ look.
“What? What did I do?” Gary whispered
“You were going to shoot him.” April whispered back with a tone to her voice
Gary smiled “I didn’t…did I?” He then gave April a look back, shrugged and said to her face “Women”
Will got off of the phone and came over “Ok, we’ll go over while our blue hat friends are having their mid-morning prayer. By the way, the roads are full of soldiers. There is a check point at the intersection heading out of town. It seems like they are looking for someone…or a whole bunch of someone’s. I guess that would be you, right?” Will smiled
Gary nodded yes
“Well, we have a little while, so let’s figure out how we are going to do this. Would you two like some coffee?”
Gary and April both nodded yes, and Will turned and went to make a pot.
April came over to Gary, walking up within an inch or two from him said “I’m not finished with you Gary Martin.”
Gary pulled April closer by taking hold of her jacket with two fingers. “Finished? I didn’t know you started, April Finney.” They both smiled and kissed.