Percy's Mission Chapters 34-39


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Chapter 34

Firewood became another major commodity as the weather turned wintry before the end of October. Percy had been coppicing his woodlands for years and had massive amounts of firewood stacked in several huge storage piles around the estate.

One of the deals he’d made when he’d gone into the city so many months before when he’d first become uneasy with the world situation and the weather patterns was the purchase of firewood from several establishments that sold it in the city. He’d bought a total of a hundred full cords and it had all been delivered, except the last two cords, by the time the war started.

He’d made quite a few deals since then, to obtain wood from others. A few people cut it and sold it to him. Percy wouldn’t clear cut, so many people allowed him to send a wood cutting crew in to harvest selected trees for firewood. He took the entire tree, including branches. The good stove wood he began stockpiling at the hardware store. He’d found someone to manage it for him. They began selling the firewood, along with the remaining stock of items that Percy hadn’t taken out to the estate.

After Percy had moved what he wanted there was plenty of room to stack firewood inside the store. There had been three house fires in time since the war. There simply wasn’t water available to fight them, nor equipment with which to do it. The town had a small pumper truck, but with only the two-hundred-fifty gallons of water it would hold, and no working hydrants to pump from, each of the three fires had been lost causes. Percy bought the houses, demolished them and stored the good lumber for later use. Wood not useable as lumber was added to the firewood piles, including furniture that wasn’t exceedingly useful.

Many people were grateful for the source of wood. No one said much when the winter worsened and people began to tear down abandoned houses for the wood they contained. Tom and the city council finally just condemned several of the houses, demolished them and used the wood and furniture from them in stoves that Randy built to heat the rooms in the school for people to use as shelter when they couldn’t heat their own homes adequately.

An opening was made in the outside wall of a room adjacent to the school’s kitchen. A large water tank was moved in and a pump with a pressure tank connected to it. A generator was run twice a day to pressure up the water system and provide electricity for several purposes. Part of the diesel they bought from Percy was used to run the genset. A horse drawn wagon with a water tank in it kept the tank in the school supplied. A limited amount of hot water was obtained by circulating water through the radiator of the engine of the generator.

Percy wasn’t able to make quite enough biodiesel to prevent using the stocks of the commercial fuel, but the use was vastly minimized. One of the things he paid a premium for were the chemicals needed to produce the biodiesel. The alcohol production was going well. Several vehicles had their engines converted to run straight alcohol, based on information obtained from books that Percy had in his library.

Gasoline was scarce. Percy had set up a buying program for gasoline the day he’d made so many other deals in town. He was buying gasoline from people that had cars that wouldn’t run, but still had fuel in them. He got over a thousand gallons that way. Most of it he accumulated in a tank in town and sold in cans out of the hardware store. He also sold some biodiesel there, as well.

Plans were made to convert a couple of trucks with gasoline engines to run on wood gas. It was a project for the next year, when better plans for providing firewood would be made.

Percy kept the generators going at the estate on a limited basis. They ran only when needed, then were shut down to conserve fuel. The heaviest use was for supplemental grow lights in the greenhouses. Some of the plants began to show signs of distress when the weather stayed cloudy for days on end. The regular rains kept the panels clear, and there was increased UV, but the lights were needed in three of the greenhouses that had plants needing more light than nature was providing.

With what people were doing on their own, in town and on other area farms, people were able to have enough to eat, though many lost considerable weight. Many had it to lose. A few didn’t.

Since it was easy to keep warm, one of the cottages was declared the new clinic. The equipment was moved from the clinic that had been built. Henry made regular runs into town and back to deliver small quantities of food, and shuttle people back and forth that needed a doctor or were paying off their labor barters to Percy.

Percy made it a point to feed everyone well when anyone worked for him. Many of them considered the hours of labor they’d already received some good, product, or service for, as a gift from heaven. They often got the equivalent again of what they originally purchased, as Percy provided everything, including their transportation.

Percy even insisted they see the doctor while they were at the estate and had an arrangement with the Doctors Bluhm to cover the cost so anyone working more than four hours for Percy had at least one comprehensive doctor’s visit. They didn’t have a real dentist, but Jock studied up, again in Percy’s library, and began to do the work.

There’d been a dentist in town at one time. He’d left in a hurry with the IRS after him two years previously. He’d left all his equipment behind. It was one of the properties that the city council had declared town property. Percy bought the equipment and moved it to the cottage for Jock to use.

It was an austere Christmas for everyone, but most that were Christian were able to celebrate to some degree. Percy hosted a Christmas Eve party in the school auditorium and almost everyone in the area attended.

One of the reasons for the party, besides the Christmas aspect of it was to have half a dozen marriage ceremonies performed. It was easier for the one surviving minister to perform them. It was also easier on the couples. The reception was taken care of, and all the guests were pretty much guaranteed to be there.

Four of the couples were townspeople. One couple was Andy and Susie. The sixth was Percy and Sara. He’d asked her after their Thanksgiving dinner at the estate and she’d agreed. Mattie had helped her move her things from the gold bedroom to Percy’s that weekend. Percy had the idea for the Christmas party and wedding when he’d asked her.

Percy provided all the food and drink for the party. It strained the production of the greenhouses, and put a noticeable hole in Percy’s reserves, but he felt it worth it. Things were going well. The townspeople provided the decorations, except the tree. Percy provided it and contributed it to the firewood pile after New Years. Everyone brought an ornament. The tree decorating was the start of the party as everyone hung an ornament.

It was the best meal many of the people had all winter, except those that worked at the estate from time to time. Percy hadn’t skimped. It was only partly due to the fact that not all the animals would survive the winter, though that was a factor. Two steers, four hogs, and thirty-six chickens fed the nearly three hundred and fifty people that attended. It was nearly the entire remaining population of the town and surrounding farms.

Even Sara’s boss made it down to attend. He was down to consult with Sara on her progress evaluating the area’s population and progress. He stayed for the party and left Christmas day to go back to the capital. There were many places, he said, that weren’t celebrating. Of all the counties he dealt with, this one was doing the best, by far, of any of them.

There was no celebration for the New Year. The weather had been cold and snowy for Christmas. It was downright bitter the week after and got worse after New Year’s Day. New Year’s Eve night the low at the estate was forty-one below zero. There was four and a half feet of snow on the ground. The snow was dirty, mixed with the ash that continued to fall from time to time.

Those at the estate did fine. It took very little to heat the earth-sheltered structures to a comfortable temperature. The animal barn didn’t need any heat. The animals kept it more than warm enough.

Percy always remembered the death toll in the town and surrounding area. There were forty-one deaths from the cold. The same number as the negative thermometer reading.

At least the bees had quit dying off. When Percy had checked the hives in the bee barn that night there were only the normal number of bee carcasses outside the hives. The fanners at the entrance of one of the hives looked like very young bees. Percy breathed a sigh of relieve. Bees were very important to a farm.

Chapter 35

“Okay, honey,” Sara said, “I’m up. What is so important today?” Sara was standing and stretching beside their bed.

From the bathroom Percy said, “We’ve got to get a load into town today. It’s your first trip driving one of the Unimogs with the snow blower on the highway. I want you to practice on the driveways before we get out on the highway.”

“Oh, Percy! I’ll do fine. You know you can have one of the others drive it if you don’t trust me.” The last was added chidingly.

Percy looked around the doorframe. He still had shaving cream on his face and the straight razor in his hand. Unlike most of the men, he still shaved every day. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s just… I worry about you. I finally have you in my life and I don’t want anything to happen to you. Since the road became so bad, using the snow blower is tricky and dangerous. Especially at the stream crossing. It’s really narrow there across the culvert we put in after the bridge went down.”

“Oh, Percy,” Sara said with a smile. She stepped up to him, put her arms around him and kissed him on the lips, shaving cream and all. “I love you when you worry. I love you a tiny bit more when you don’t, but it’s not that much different.”

Percy wiped his wife’s face clear of shaving cream with the towel from the vanity. “I love you too, all the time. No matter what. Now get your shower and get dressed. We are going to clean the driveways on the estate before we leave, whether its practice or just getting the job done.”

When they went downstairs for breakfast, Andy was fussing in the kitchen, banging things with the cumbersome splint on his left leg. “Dadgum it,” he half cursed. “I hate this thing.”

“He won’t sit down and let us do it,” Amy said. Her sister nodded.

Susie came into the kitchen and put her hand on Andy’s arm. “Come and sit down. Let them do their job. I keep telling you not to try to do things with that leg. Jock said you need to keep off it. That splint isn’t quite as effective as a regular cast, but the one that will fit you is on Howard.”

Andy frowned at his wife, but took a seat, out of the way. The sisters went on with the breakfast preparations. Mattie was sick in bed with a bad cold. “I wish I could go with you,” he groused. It’s my job to be doing things like this. Not you and Mrs. Jackson.”

“Not when you’re hurt, Andrew,” Percy said, pouring them both cups of tea. The coffee that was left was kept for special occasions. There were four coffee plants in one of the greenhouses, but Percy wasn’t sure they’d produce. Even if they did, they wouldn’t provide much coffee. But some. Eventually.

“You’ve worked hard enough, and will again. You can monitor the radios, just as you’ve been doing. Each person has to do what he or she is capable of doing. You can do the radios and keep things on an even keel around here. And keep an eye on the other Dr. Bluhm. Dr. Bluhm’s been saying she’s doing too much, too.”

“When are you going to start calling us Jock and Melissa?” Melissa asked. She elbowed Jock just a little. “What have you been telling them? I just realized that everyone has been trying all of a sudden to get me to take it easy.”

“Well, it’s your first child, and you’ve had some problems already.”

“I’ve got the second best doctor in the state attending me. I’m fine and I will be fine, if Junior here ever decides to take a break from trying to kick my insides to the outside.” Melissa’s hands cupped her belly. It was February and she was almost eight months along. She was short and slender. Jock was tall and rangy. Apparently the baby was going to take after its father.

After a quick breakfast Sara, Susie, Jock, and Percy headed for the equipment barn through the tunnels. The additional berms had all been removed before the worst of the freezing weather had hit. Suzie fired up the Bobcat 5600T Utility Vehicle. She ran it over and connected the snow blower for it. Percy and Jock were raising the barn door to get out the vehicles.

Susie used the Bobcat to clear the accumulation of snow near the doors and headed toward the animal barn doors. Percy and Sara climbed into their respective Unimogs. The snow blowers for them were already attached. The box beds were installed the night before. The plows had been on for days. The two headed out of the barn, one blowing snow one way, the other, the other way.

It took only a few minutes to get the three feet of accumulation cleared from the area between the various barns. The rest of the crew would work on moving the fifteen foot high windrows of blown snow that resulted from the multiple snow blower passes away from the barns later. Right now they wanted to get the day’s delivery to town. They were only making two runs a week now and people were waiting on the food.

Henry pulled the shuttle bus out of the equipment barn and followed the two Unimogs, now clearing the driveway toward the open gates. Percy took the lead and Sara dropped behind him, offset to clear an almost doublewide road. They turned toward Doc’s first, and cleared the road to his place and his drive while Henry waited in the shuttle bus for them to return.

It didn’t take long. Doc would be able to get out now if he needed to in Andy’s Jimmy he’d started using when his old Dodge Power Wagon blew an engine. The engine was being replaced, but it would be spring before it was done.

The piles on either side of the road stood close to twenty feet high. The actual snow depth was over ten, but each of the last few trips to town the road had needed clearing. Not much of the snow blown to the sides of the road had melted.

Percy slowed appreciably when they came to the stream. The bridge, damaged some during the quakes, had become detached at one end and half fallen into the stream. Percy had moved a large culvert from the county maintenance shed and installed it in the stream. They filled over it and packed the fill down using the Unimogs and the Bobcats. A layer of compacted gravel completed the roadbed. The culvert was big enough around, but it was only twelve feet long. Not much margin of error when crossing the stream.

Percy eased onto the new stretch of road and cleared the single lane. He pulled back onto the highway on the other side, stepped out of the truck, and watched Sara cross the culvert. She did it easily and waved to him. She passed him and took up the lead position. Henry followed sedately behind, his passengers napping. Another crew would be coming back with him to work the labor hours with which they bought food, fuel, and firewood. Not a one begrudged Percy the work.

Reports coming in on the radio indicated that, as they had been at Christmas, their little community was thriving in comparison to others in the state. Down south it was better, but there was no guarantee it would continue to be so. Even the areas that weren’t under the waters of the new, much larger Gulf of Mexico.

Much of the crowd at the school didn’t really think it was so great. With the heavy snow accumulation, Steven’s store had been abandoned, as had the hardware store. Everything centered on the school.

The main entrance of the school had been cleared with shovels, and there were the signs of a couple of paths leading somewhere. Percy and Sara cleared the same large area cleared on the last trip.

People were waiting for the food delivery. Those scheduled to work the next few days eagerly helped unload the food and take it to the kitchen. Steven would distribute it from there. He, like several others that had remained fairly independent, had moved his family to the school when it became difficult to maintain heat in their own homes.

“Hi, Tom,” Percy said. He noted that the Mayor was beginning to look haggard. The harsh weather was telling on his health. “What’s the word today?”

“Fair, at best,” Tom replied. “It’s a struggle. Thank God for your help. Most of us never would have made it through without you. The reports from the feds and the state are indicating that the weather should be breaking in another two to three weeks.

“Still not much chance of aid. We’re going to have to plan better for next winter. Or move south. That discussion starts every few days. I’m beginning to believe it may be a viable option. People are dying here, and I can’t do anything to stop it.”

“Tom, you’re doing everything you can. Some of the people that have died just made bad choices. Estelle and Dwayne never should have tried to go back to their place after Christmas. It was too cold and snowy. And young Dale… Janice would have preferred to see him a few days after her birthday, rather than see him make the attempt to deliver her birthday present in the middle of a blizzard. It’s tragic, but he made the choice to walk to the farm. It wasn’t your fault.

“This is still a nation of individual freedom. We can’t deny people the right to make stupid decisions. At least, not unless the decision will affect other people. Then there is some justification. Like when you prevented Jeb from storing fuel in his family’s area here in the school. There would have been a fire, eventually. I know he blames you for the fact that the container was overturned and the fuel lost, but you still made the right decision.”

“That man is upset about something, every day. I wonder sometimes if I object to moving the town south next spring, just because Jeb and Abigail are for it. And Wilkins. The three of them are still coming up with plans to try to get you ousted from the estate. Now, if just them, and a couple more I could name, would head south on their own, I’d be all for it. They’re a constant thorn in the operation here.

“I mean, everyone is entitled to an opinion. The things we’ve done here have been group decisions, but they are always so negative. It just really gets me down.”

“Tom, you’re a good guy. The offer to have you come out to the estate and stay still goes,” Percy said.

“I can’t leave these people,” Tom said slowly, looking around the auditorium where they were standing. Fortunately, unlike most such structures, the school’s auditorium was an arched construction building. Basically a large Quonset hut. It took the snow load with no problem. The rest of the school was much the same. A large asterisk of Quonsets with dormer windows in the single floor sections.

“Not,” Tom continued, looking back at Percy, “any more than you can not help where you can. You don’t have to be supporting this town with your resources.”

“You know I’m doing just fine. I’ve pretty much got all the original value of gold and silver back in trade that I put up to help get things started. People had a little here and a little there. And when Alfonse set up his little assay, refinery, and mint operation to turn jewelry and other things with precious metal into coins, a lot more came out of the woodwork. There is a lot of gold and silver in things that I had no clue. Alfonse has been able to extract it for people and put it into useable form.

“For a fee,” they both said together. It was a catch phrase now, heard often during discussion of bartering, trading, and requests for services.

“I know. But you really don’t have to be doing all of what you do. You could sit back and live comfortably, supporting yourself for the rest of your lives at the estate, without all the hassles and work.”

“It’s just not in me,” Percy replied. “I’ve worked all my life to get where I am. It didn’t turn out the way I imagined, even with all the planning I did for such things. It is essentially what I set out to do, in the event of an emergency. Have what was needed to get by and help others if I could. I guess I never really believed it myself, that things would happen the way they did. I’m just glad I’d made the preparations I did. And I’ve made a good living in the process.”

“A lot of people are grateful you did. Even some that used to make fun of you for your strange ways. And that equipment you bought. Who ever heard of farming with trucks and industrial equipment but you? And keeping working teams to actually farm with, not just have to march in parades, in the day and age of mechanized farming. Just you. I haven’t really said it in a while, but thanks, Percy, for all you’ve done.”

“Come on, Tom. You don’t need to say that. I do what I do because I want to do it. It’s an ego thing I guess. I like being prepared. I like having my toys. I never really needed all those six wheel versions of my vehicles. I just like them. They work great in these conditions, sure, but four wheel drives would be almost as good.”

“Maybe,” Tom said, “But if things ever get back to normal enough to allow me to obtain some of the same things you have, I’m going to. Those trucks of yours are amazing. And I can tell you, my four wheel drive SUV never would have made it across that stream the way your six-wheel-drive Suburban did when the bridge first went out.”

“Hopefully things will get back to a semblance of what they were. The reports we’re getting indicate there are many areas firing up again. Smaller scale, but to a degree.”

“Yeah. Where the weather is still reasonable. You were right about the Gulf Stream. Apparently it did sink. The experts are saying that we’re in for these kinds of winters for a long time to come.”

“Just like Canada used to have. They dealt with it. So will we. And I agree with you. Those that want to go south should go. This area will easily support the same number of people that are here now, if they are people that want to be here and are willing to do what it takes to make a comfortable life. It’s just a matter of adjusting to things. And a matter of scale.”

“I know,” Tom said. “There are a few taking to this like ducks to water. Others never will. Maybe we should plan on helping some go south this spring.”

“I’ll see what I can come up with,” Percy said, grinning.

“No doubt,” Tom said, his grin matching Percy’s. “But before we get too maudlin, or too eager to get rid of people, let’s get through the rest of winter.”

“Good idea,” Percy agreed. They went their separate ways then. Tom to see about an administration problem and Percy to get things ready to go back to the estate.

It was still snowing lightly, but there was no need to use the snow blowers on the way back. Henry got the current batch of six people settled in the bunkhouse as Sara and Percy parked the Unimogs and went to check on things in the house and the barns.

The snow had been moved, piled in a nearby open area. The dirty white pile was growing. “I know we need to keep this cleared, but why are you being so careful to keep it so organized, Jim asked Percy as they stood behind the barn and watched Bob put the last bucket load of snow on the pile using a Unimog.

“That ash mixed in with the snow will be very good for the fields. I want to work it in like compost next spring. Piling up the snow like this will leave the ash behind when it melts. Speaking of which, show me how the Ice House is coming.”

“Another good layer,” Jim said, leading Percy around the pile of snow, to a spot behind the utility barn. In the space between the barn and a section of the orchards was a growing mound of ice. Each morning when it was the coldest, water was sprayed on the mound, freezing as it flew through the air or when it hit the existing ice.

A light structure of wood had been built to form a cavity in the ice when the pile was first started. Now they just had an inverted U shape that was moved slightly each day to maintain a tunnel into the head high cavity. Flexible plastic tubing was laid in a spiral pattern inside the ice as the mound was being built.

Later in the spring, when they could no longer create more ice easily, the ice mound would be covered with straw bales to insulate it. The cavity would be used to store things requiring refrigeration. Water could be pumped through the tubing and used to cool things, too. The entire mound was sitting on plastic lying on the ground. As the mound did melt, the runoff would be directed to one of the many underground water storage areas Percy had incorporated when he began the renovation of the place. That cold water could also be used for cooling purposes.

The storage areas were stacked interlocking panels consisting of four-inch high cylinders inside of pits with plastic liners. The stacked panels allowed a top liner to be laid down, and then the pit backfilled with eight inches of covering that would support vehicles. The panels took up only roughly four percent of the space in the cavity, leaving room for thousands of gallons of water in each one. All water diverted into the tanks ran through gravel and sand filters to remove debris.

Percy collected pretty much all the rain and moisture from snow that fell on the area comprising the estate building area. Since a generator had to run part of the time anyway for other needs, it was no problem to have a pump moving water from a well to make the ice mound.

A large tarp was drawn over the mound when the spraying was finished. Snow was blown over it to keep the sun from hitting the mound. Not that they got a lot of sun, but there was no reason to let any of the ice melt until it was needed. Plus, the snow that accumulated naturally was removed and added to the ash and snow pile Percy was building.

“Looking good,” Percy said. Thing might just last all summer, if we get it big enough. Though, from what the reports are saying, this summer may be as hot as this winter was cold.”

“This’ll be the place to hang out, if it is. Set up a lounge chair inside and just let the heat glow outside.”

“Yeah. Right. Go find something to do.” Percy laughed and Jim responded in kind. Percy headed to the house.

Melissa, Andy, and Mattie were commiserating with each other in the dining room as the sisters went about their work. Sara had started preparations for the household noon meal. She mostly supervised and the young women did the work.

“Burgers for lunch okay, Percy?” she asked.

“Sure,” he replied. “Dr. Bluhm over in the infirmary with today’s load?”

“Dr. Jock Bluhm is,” Melissa called to him from the dining room. “This Dr. Bluhm is right here. I should have kept my maiden name for my work,” she groused.

“I’m going to see how he’s doing,” Percy said, ignoring the pregnant woman’s comments. “Barbie didn’t look too good this morning. We might have another inpatient for a while. Until that baby comes, too.”

“I’d better go check on her,” Melissa said. Andy stood and helped her get up from the chair.

“You be careful,” Mattie admonished, wrapped up in her favorite blanket. Her voice was muffled from the congestion of the cold. “You’re not in the best of shape yourself. Be sure to use the tunnel and don’t go outside.”

“Yes, Mother.” Melissa quickly apologized for her sharp remark. “I’m sorry Mattie. It’s not your fault. I just feel rotten. The tyke is kicking me something fierce.

“It’s all right, sweetie,” Mattie got out before she started coughing.

“Maybe you should go lie down, Mrs. Simpson,” Andy said. “Susie will kill me if I let anything bad happen to you.”

“Thank you, Andy. I think. And I think I will.” Mattie staggered off to her room.

“I think I’ll lie down, too,” Andy said. “My leg is hurting.” He went off to the bedroom he and Susie shared.

“We’ll call you when lunch is ready. Andy paused, lifted a hand from the crutches to wave, and then hobbled on down the hallway.

“I guess it’s just us for a while, ladies,” Sara said.

Everyone seemed to be in a better mood by the time lunchtime rolled around an hour later.

“Makes me thankful I’m doing as well as I am,” Melissa was saying as she, Jock, and Percy re-entered the kitchen to the smells of grilling hamburgers. The sisters were setting out plates and flatware, as Sara monitored the burgers.

“She’s going to be fine,” Jock said. “She’s just having a lot of discomfort. It’ll be over soon. The baby has dropped.” Jock looked over at Percy. “Do you think Amanda would come out for a few days to help? You can up her pay a little. Take it out of my ration. I’d like an experienced nurse to help with the delivery. She’s been doing fine in town since she showed up.”

Amanda Gardner had walked into town one day before the weather had become so bad. She was headed to Arkansas from Wisconsin. She’d been carrying a huge backpack, pushing a mountain bike piled high with equipment, with a pipe strapped to the handlebars to steer it.

There was a two-wheeled deer drag loaded with additional equipment and supplies attached to the bike as a trailer. An inverted adult size snow sled topped the supplies. The sled had been converted to a pulka with plastic pipe and rope and could be used to carry the deer drag and bike in snowy conditions.

There were also a pair of cross-country skies, a pair of snowshoes, and a pair of alpine poles strapped to the equipment to allow winter travel.

When she arrived her intentions had been to stop for a day to rest. She agreed to stay and help with the medical duties for a share of food. She’d been invaluable to Jock, with Melissa able to do limited duty due to her pregnancy. When the thaw came in the spring, she’d head south again, with a fresh stock of jerky and dried fruits and vegetables. She was trading some labor for additional food stocks for her trip.

“I’m sure she will come out for that. And I’ll absorb the additional cost. She wants as much food for her trip as possible.” Percy was adamant about taking care of any additional barter Amanda might want.

As it turned out, Amanda was happy to do it. And it worked out well. Shortly after Barbie safely delivered her seven pound eleven ounce baby boy, Melissa went into labor. Melissa bore an eight pound thirteen ounce baby girl. Both babies were healthy. The happy news was transmitted to those in town.

The births seemed to be a turning point in the weather. It snowed more, but they were light snows, both in intensity and color. For the moment at least, the volcanoes to their west were behaving. There was still over two feet of snow when March rolled around, but it rapidly melted under the often seen sun.

The early rains began not long after the snows had melted away. Since they’d been able to decontaminate the fields the previous fall after stripping the fields for fuel production, Percy began turning the ground as soon as the horses and oxen could get into the fields safely.

Besides the moisture from the accumulation of snow that winter, the early rains, cold as they were, added another significant amount of moisture to the worked ground. The irrigation ponds and canals were also full. Percy was sure that the moisture and significant amounts of volcanic ash would result in bountiful crops. He expected a shorter than normal growing season, so pushed to get things planted as soon as it looked like the danger of a hard frost was over.

The federal government was doing its best to provide what help it could, and getting weather reports, both short range and long-range forecasts were a priority they had been able to do.

When the roads were relatively safe to travel again, Sara began the spring census of the area. Percy had her take the Chevy pickup with the shell and plenty of emergency supplies. The first few weeks of her work there was still danger of a sudden blizzard. By the end of March, seasonal weather prevailed.

Most of the people that had worked their rotation had been trained in what they would do come spring if they worked at the estate. The preparation and then planting went well. Percy had always saved seed to plant and had more than enough from the prior years to plant everything he wanted, despite last fall’s failed crops. There were a few other farms equipped to do horse farming and the small amount of seed left in the farm supply store was divided among them.

For the first time in his life, Percy deviated from the rotation plan for the fields and garden. He knew the ground was in good enough shape to plant every available acre to get a good harvest. The plan was to go back to the rotation the next year.

Since the weakest of the stock had been used for food during the winter, the stock that was left was in prime shape. Percy had only been using a fifth of the space in the animal barn before the war. The additional animals had filled it, though not to the point of overcrowding any of the animals.

All the animals seemed grateful to get outside the first time they were allowed to do so. They’d all been exercised regularly in the barn, but the freedom of the first pasture trip seemed to bring out the friskiness in all of them, including the chickens. The dogs had opportunities to go outside during the least severe of the weather, so weren’t quite as excited as the other animals were.

Nature had taken its course, as expected, and all of the female animals began giving birth. Susie and Percy had a good handle on it, but Doc helped, as did the Doctors Bluhm. They only lost three piglets and one calf. Baring another disaster, there would be meat for the year.

With the crops in and being cared for by hand and by animal power, other projects began to come to the fore in people’s minds.


Chapter 36

Calvin and Nan were able to get to town a few more times before winter hit full force. They helped all they could, wherever they could, helping people prepare for winter. There wasn’t that much they could do. They hauled as much wood as they could get cut, letting the town council allocate it. They were getting a small fuel allocation from the state for what they were helping with, allowing them to conserve their own fuel.

When October rolled around they made what would be their last trip until spring. It saw the end of the gang that had attacked them. They’d been caught in a house in town, the owner of which had been providing the information and shelter. When she traded a jar of homemade preserves to Sheila McGuire for a half pint of liquor, Sheila recognized the label on the jar. It had come from one of the families that had been massacred by the gang. The woman showed it to the Chief.

Calvin was with the group that surrounded the house. They never determined if the gang had heard about the no mercy dictate that had come down, but they surrendered without a shot. They were hanged the next day, including the woman, during another snowstorm.

Calvin and Nan didn’t go outside much that winter. Only to take the occasional look around and to clean the solar panels of snow. The snow was fourteen feet deep at its worst. They could not have gone anywhere even if they’d wanted.

They checked with Bill from time to time on the radio he’d left them. Things were not going well in town, and from what little information Bill was getting, things weren’t much better in the outlying areas like where the Stubblefields were.

But Calvin and Nan did just fine. They barely touched their stock of LTS food, using mostly the home canned goods they’d put up the previous fall.

The snow was down to only five feet deep when they decided to try to make it to town. It took them a week of long days of work with the Unimog to get there. They worked three more days in town under Bill’s direction, clearing the most important travel lanes.

Again Calvin and Nan helped in many ways, as spring came in with a whimper. The extreme winter had taken a heavy toll in life. Less than twenty percent of those that had survived the war survived the winter. The town itself lost proportionately more than the outlying areas. Several of the farms, used to being on their own for long periods during normal winters had survived intact. Others had not.

Bodies were buried, including those that had been hanged the previous fall. They had been there the entire winter, it being beyond the capability of the town residents to dig their way to them, much less bury the bodies. The cold weather had preserved them.

One farm family survived the winter by moving an antique wood kitchen stove into their barn and living there with the animals for mutual warmth and support.

It was never said aloud, but there were suspicions of cannibalism at one farm. But everyone there died, anyway, so nothing was done about it. Nothing could be done.

The survivors pulled together to make it. Very little food and not much more fuel came to the town through the auspices of the state and FEMA. They got a little, accepted gratefully. Most of their supplies were scavenged, through a FEMA sanctioned plan, from those that had not made it through the winter.

Not all had starved to death. Many deaths came early in the winter when a storm plummeted temperatures to thirty and forty degrees below zero for days on end. Most of the deaths were caused by freezing, or asphyxiation when wood was burned in snow covered houses with not enough ventilation.

Once travel could be accomplished, most of the rest of the population of the town and countryside opted to go to relocation centers in the southern states. A hardy few, farmers mostly, chose to stay.

Calvin and Nan stayed busy berming up barns and houses for the next winter, and cutting wood for hire. They started the garden and continued to grow vegetables in the greenhouse. They talked about going south, but with some of the farmers sure they could endure the winters, there would be food for barter, trade, and sale. They decided to stay.

FEMA managed to keep a trickle of fuel coming in, and Calvin was able to refill his tanks before the end of fall, doping it with Pri-G and Pri-D to keep it stable, as he had the year before. They were still well stocked with propane.

It was going to be some difficult years, but with the hardy people that chose to stay behind and continue with their lives, and Calvin and Nan with their resources they were willing to use for the benefit of the community, in return for supplies, there would continue to be a human presence in the Black Hills. Even the flora and fauna began to make a comeback the following years.

Chapter 37

Buddy was able to barter and trade for quite a few things the next couple of months as they prepared for the winter. He also bought a few things with silver and gold, but he was holding what he had left pretty closely. Though he was pretty sure it was some scavengers, he traded for almost three hundred gallons of gasoline over that time. It kept the truck running back and forth for their weekly trips, plus increased his supply slightly.

FEMA and the National Guard began allowing those with businesses to open them for a limited time each day. Buddy was able to get new ignition parts for the plumbing van. It took several trips to move it and all the supplies he had at the house to the shelter. He also moved the storage building and re-erected it beside the shelter.

Much of what he acquired he was able to trade his expertise as a plumber, and some of his supplies. He was one of six that plumbed water and sewer for the camp as it grew. The tradesmen had plenty of unskilled help to get the work done. Everyone that wanted to stay at the camp and receive assistance had to contribute some of their time.

Buddy knew the winter, no matter how bad it got in the city, would be worse, but he and Charlene both preferred to be where they were, rather than in the camp. He wasn’t sure how well they would make out if the winter got as bad as the forecasts said it would.

And the captain had been correct, the die-off continued, though more people were coming out of the hills, to the camp, as their supplies ran out. Despite the fact that the total population of the region was falling, the camp population was growing.

Those facts made some things more difficult. Others less so. One of the farmers that was ill and going to stay in camp made Buddy a good deal on two roosters, a dozen layers, and three brood hens. It took Buddy and Charlene several days to haul enough dirt into the shelter to make a spot for the chickens for the winter. The farmer had thrown in the old pen and coop. It was set up near the garden spot they prepared for the next spring.

Knowing what was needed, Buddy took the opportunities during the decent weather to make arrangements with several other farmers to help out on their farms in exchange for meat, vegetables, and other staples. None would give him anything in advance, and he couldn’t really blame them for that.

But as the severity of the coming weather became obvious, Buddy, since he’d already made the contacts, was first in line to stock up on butchered meat as farmers culled the animals they had left to herds they could take care of during the winter.

Things like freezers were cheap. Buddy picked up two twenty-one foot chest type freezers for next to nothing and installed them in the shelter. He filled both of them completely full with meat. Hunting laws had been relaxed, or more truthfully abandoned. Game had already begun to disappear during the immediate aftermath of the war, due to the radiation, but also to hunters taking anything and everything they could to survive.

But there was still a little left, and hunters were out in force. Buddy bought as much fish, fowl, and game as he could to finish filling the freezers. He hunted some himself, on his property and added to the take.

That was when he ran into the only trouble they had in the aftermath. Buddy had Charlene with him, teaching her to hunt. They were looking for anything they could get so Buddy had the Savage 99, and Charlene was carrying the Stoeger Coach Gun. They were at the edge of the property nearest the road when they saw three men, who also appeared to be hunting.

Buddy had grown a bit careless since things had been going so well. He hailed the others, intending to see how their hunt was going. Their response was to fire at Buddy and Charlene. Fortunately all three missed, and Buddy and Charlene dropped below the slight rise they’d been coming up. It flashed across Buddy’s mind that this needed to be taken care of right now. They couldn’t allow any rogue hunters that were willing to shoot on site to have access to the property.

“Charlene,” Buddy whispered, guiding her to a rock outcropping. “Hide here, with the shotgun out. Give it a couple of hours. If I don’t come back, make your way to the shelter, being really careful. Anyone comes up and it’s not me, shoot first and ask questions later. I’ll make sure you know it is me. If I call you anything but Char, you know they caught me and they think they are making me show them where you are. Come out shooting. I’ll go down to give you a clear field of fire.”

“Buddy, I’m scared!” Charlene whispered back.

“I know. So am I. But we have to take care of this now. We can’t have them at our backs. They’ll eventually find the shelter and kill us. You know that time I won’t talk about much?”

Charlene nodded.

“What I learned then applies to this situation. Just stay quiet and keep a good watch. I’ll see you in a little while. I love you.” Buddy leaned forward and kiss her deeply, and then faded away into the forest.

Charlene set out several 12-gauge shells, and loosened the Glock 21 in its holster. She was as ready as she could be. She jumped once several minutes later when she thought she heard a shot. But she couldn’t be sure.

She was gathering up the shells, in preparation to head back to the shelter, as Buddy’s time limit of two hours was almost up, when she heard Buddy’s strong voice. “Char,” he said, “It’s me. Everything is okay.”

She lunged into his arms in the fading light. He held her for a few moments, and then said, “We need to get back to the shelter. One of them tagged me before I got him.”

With a gasp, Charlene stepped back and looked at Buddy in alarm. Then she saw the blood on his pants. “It’s not serious,” he said quickly. “But it hurts like the dickens and it’s starting to get dark.”

Despite not needing it, Buddy finally accepted Charlene’s shoulder as support as they walked back to the shelter in the fading light. She cleaned and dressed the wound at the shelter, without another word, and then just held Buddy silently, until he fell asleep.

The next morning there was a foot of snow on the ground, and it was coming down heavily. Buddy got dressed, grunting and groaning a bit, over Charlene’s objections. “I have to, Honey. It won’t take too long, but those three had some things we can use.”

“Well, I’m coming with you!” she insisted.

“Are you sure you want to? It’s not a pretty sight.”

Charlene gulped slightly, but she nodded. “I insist.”

Buddy suggested they forego breakfast, and Charlene was glad he had. Stripping the equipment and then the clothing from the first man made her stomach churn. The second and third time weren’t as bad. Buddy had made clean headshots, so there wasn’t much gore. Just the fact they were handling dead bodies.

Buddy had insisted they wear their Tyvek suits, with rubber boots, gloves, and respirators. There was some type of bug going around and he didn’t want to chance that the men might have it.

It was an amazed looked on Charlene’s face when Buddy led her to the county road and she saw the truck there. They threw the gear in the back of the pickup truck, on top of three deer carcasses and half a dozen turkeys.

The truck was a small Toyota four-wheel-drive pickup that had seen better days, appearance wise. But someone had loved the truck at one time, Buddy pointed out, opening the hood. The engine was immaculate and it started right up.

Buddy was hurting by the time he finished dressing out the game. There wasn’t room in the freezer for it so he hung it in the storage shed. It would be plenty cool enough now for it to keep until they used up some of it and made room in the freezer for the rest.

They didn’t get off the property until the following spring. When they got to the city they found a virtual ghost town. Whatever had been going around the previous fall had been deadly. FEMA and the Guard had pulled out when only a few survived. What supplies were left were adequate for the few people that chose to stay behind.

They only knew that because the one person they found in the camp had kept a journal. It was still in his frozen hand when Buddy and Charlene found him. They loaded up the remaining supplies over the next three days and took them to the shelter. They use it to trade with those few on the surrounding farms that had survived.

Buddy fulfilled his promise to help on the farms that had people that made it through the winter and received enough supplies, in addition to their own garden, to make it for at least two years.

By that time the area began to recover. FEMA moved back in and began to help those that were left. Buddy and Charlene needed little actual help, but welcomed the fact that fuel and supplies were again available on a limited basis. Life would be hard for a while, but they would make it.

Chapter 38

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Angela asked Emily.

“Yes, I do. Sure, the shelter got us through the fallout and stuff, but we can’t live in it forever. I know you think I’m making a mistake, but I’m afraid we won’t make it far enough south before winter sets in. FEMA and the National Guard won’t let anything bad happen to us. Everyone that wanted to go south left two weeks ago.”

“I know,” Angela said, “But Charlie just wasn’t ready. We still have time. The authorities have said there are places to stay once we get there. And we can work. With the rest of the food from the shelter, and those bug-out bags that were there, we’ll have what we need to get south. Are you sure you want to give all that stuff to us?”

Emily nodded. “If it hadn’t been for you, I and the children would never have survived this. And Charlie has been a big help since we found him. It’s the least that I can do.”

“Well, I’m not going to turn it down,” Angela replied. She hugged Emily and both children, and Charlie did the same. Charlie and Angela watched as the three turned and walked into the FEMA camp, to take up residence.

“Come on, Charlie. Times a’wastin’. “

“You sure like to push an old man around,” Charlie groused. He wasn’t one-hundred percent, by any means, but he’d recovered remarkably during the summer months. The fact that he had a safe place to stay, and someone to watch his back, had allowed him to get more rest in a shorter period of time than he had for years. The food he got from FEMA wasn’t in great quantity, but it was enough for him to recover.

In the weeks, then months, after they’d made connections, Angela had come to look upon Charlie as an uncle she’d never had, and to trust him completely. Charlie’s feelings were reciprocal. He came to appreciate Angela’s resourcefulness, knowledge, and skill. She had been the one that guided the small group through the last months. It was she that insisted they go south. Charlie had been ready to go into the camp at one point, but Angela had talked him out of it.

When they got back to the Baumgartner’s, the trip going faster than it used to, now that Angela had a bicycle, they began to make their preparations for leaving. They had traded a few things from the house to a couple that were going into the camp for it. Like Charlie’s, it was a good mountain bike.

They had also acquired an old pickup that still ran, and a trailer. Angela had traded her car for it. It had taken a while to get it out of the traffic jam. They’d been collecting gasoline for a long while. It wouldn’t be enough to get them as far south as they wanted to go, but it would get them a long ways on the journey.

It took them three days to pack up everything they were going to take, including the remainder of the LTS food, the weapons, and removable equipment from the shelter. Once Angela had decided they were moving, and Emily had approved the action, they used what they weren’t going to take for barter, to get the rest of the things they needed to take with them to ensure the success of the trip.

Charlie had rigged larger and better trailers for the bikes, and modified four of the packs that were part of the ten BOB’s that had been in the shelter to fasten to the bikes that they would push, rather than ride, when they ran out of fuel for the truck.

A farm family heard about their plan to go south a day in to the preparations and asked if they could travel with them in return for some fuel. They had a two-ton farm truck with a trailer of gasoline. They were still trying to find more food when the group left.

Angela readily agreed. That would let them take all the food from the shelter with them. Enough to share, with plenty left over for their fist days in the south.

Angela had to admit, whether he had planned to or not, Edward Baumgartner had prepared well. They were a well equipped, though small, expedition that set off for greener pastures and better climate that day.

It was no easy trip, but with the goods they had, and the arms they had to use twice, they made their journey. They were even able to cache everything that wouldn’t fit on the bikes and trailers when they ran out of fuel after parting ways with the Stanfords, who were headed for relatives about three quarters of the way to where Angela and Charlie were going.

Once they established themselves, Angela and Charlie returned and retrieved the caches. It was enough to see them through the winter at the farm they found that needed willing hands.

Emily and the children didn’t fare well that winter. The two children froze to death one bitterly cold night, and Emily died a few days later, from malnutrition, cold, and grief.

It was experienced farmers and survivalists that owned and ran the farm where Angela and Charlie took up residence. Unlike Emily, John, and Catherine, Angela and Charlie would make it.


Chapter 39

Some of the first were the plans of those that wanted to go south to avoid another winter like the one they’d just endured. Sara’s census indicated there were three-hundred-twenty-one people in the area that included the town and the estate. One third were children. Almost half the adults wanted to move if it were possible.

Reports had come from the area of the new Memphis Bay of the Gulf of Mexico that they had faired well. Memphis had snow most of the winter, but it was one or two feet at a time. Not four or five or six or more. And not nearly as often. They’d had two periods when the snow was gone for a few days. It was a much different kind of weather than before the war, but reasonable to the minds of the town folk. More like what they were used to.

The area around the Gulf had suffered even more than the town had, because no one in that area was even remotely prepared for that type of hard winter. The death toll had been high, according to the reports Sara was getting. There were places available for people that wanted to go there. They would be welcome.

Everyone at the estate attended the town meeting set to discuss moving. Percy hadn’t wanted to bring up any of the projects he had in mind until the issue of moving was settled. It didn’t take that long.

Sara had reported that there would probably be a big change in the population soon when she turned in her preliminary report in March. Both the state and federal governments were represented at the town meeting. When it was clear that so many people wanted to move, the government representatives asked to be allowed to speak.

Sara’s boss spoke first. “We don’t like to lose citizens, in ordinary times,” he said. “These are extraordinary times. The way the future looks, winters like this past winter will be the norm for many years. The state lost many of her citizens, between the war and the weather. Our services, such as they are, are strained to the limit. I doubt if you have noticed, since things have gone so well here.”

There were some murmurs and restlessness from the crowd at that. Howard Broadfield lifted his hands for a moment. “I know. I know. Everyone here suffered. But believe me, compared to most you really did have it easy. I lost three toes myself to frostbite and that was in the state’s shelter at the capitol.

“Be that as it may, we have been helping people in other locations to the best of our ability. Many of them also want to leave and go south. It would ease the strain on the state’s resources and speed our recovery. The state will help with this project, to a limited degree. We can discuss the details after you’ve conducted your meeting.”

The federal official took the podium next. She was a representative of FEMA. “Howard is right,” she said. “As long as some move south, and not all, everyone will benefit. The south was hit even harder than you here.” Again came the murmurs.

“Believe me when I tell you, twenty below in Memphis is ten times worse than forty below here. People were not prepared for anything except a dusting of snow, perhaps once each winter, and temperatures below freezing only a few times a winter. Estimates are that in this area we lost fifty percent of our population directly to the war, and sixty percent of what was left to the winter weather, combined with the results of volcanic and seismic activity. Twenty percent survived.

“Down south, the death toll from the war was about the same. The weather, complicated by severe earthquake damage and flooding, caused a ninety percent death toll on the war survivors. Only about five percent of the people residing there are still living.”

That brought more murmurs, but these were of dawning realization that perhaps they had faired relatively well.

Claudia Robertson continued. “Despite the damage from the earthquakes and floods, life will be easier there. There are buildings left standing that can be repaired for use. Homes as well as businesses. We… the federal government… have a stronger presence there, also due to the less severe weather. There are more remaining resources, though, like here, organized scavenging will need to take place. There are rules in place to compensate people for losses, but everything remaining, just like here, will be used.

“Your bartering system has worked so well here, as word of it spread, similar systems were instituted in many places with government assistance. That’s not to say that people weren’t doing anything similar. They were. This was just the most advanced and well thought out plan.”

Nearly every resident of the area looked over at Percy. He turned red.

“You won’t be going into a strange environment. People are doing similar things to what you’re doing here. FEMA wants to see the relocation succeed, just as the state does. We do not want any more deaths that can be avoided. If some of you move south, I think we can save lives.”

Claudia smiled. “Chancing being booed again, I must say that there has been very little lawlessness around here. Now, it was nothing like books and movies late in the last millennium depicted, but there have been cases of lawlessness in other areas. Highwaymen and such. Because of that, Federal troops can be assigned to accompany the wagon train, so to speak, to the south. That is, if this area can provide at least four men of appropriate age to add to the forces for at least two years. The military is just as short handed as everyone else and we need recruits. From what I understand goes on here, it’ll pretty much be the same deal. Room and board, with a little spending cash for luxuries. In silver. Again, two year commitment, but everything will be provided for your services as soldiers.”

“What about women?” a woman called. “I was in the army a few years ago. I still got what it takes.”

Claudia was shaking her head. “It’s too difficult to maintain the facilities necessary in the field for mixed gender units. You can certainly reenlist, but you would be transferred to a base operation. Probably north of here.”

There was some laughter at that and the woman replied, “I’ll pass, thank you. My sights are set on the south.”

Several men were speaking up and Claudia interrupted them. “The trip is not dependant on whether men sign up. We just won’t be able to provide an armed escort for the trip. You would be expected to help in the defense, of course, but a group of ten troopers would accompany you, commanded by a Lieutenant. Four locals would be joined by six experienced people. Training for the four would begin immediately, from the time they joined.

“Now. Only a limited amount of supplies will be contributed. They will be for the troops to get there and enough to get back. The only thing we can supply for you is a water truck and treatment plant to supply safe drinking water. You will need to take everything else with you, to get you there. As I said, there are some resources already there. You won’t have to worry about immediate housing when you get there. Final quarters you’ll work out with the local authorities. If you contemplate running some sort of legal business, you’ll want to take whatever it is with you.

“I’ll be available, like Howard, after the meeting, for questions. Thank you for allowing me to speak.”

There was polite applause, and then Tom and the members of the city counsel took seats around the conference table. People looked over at Percy expectantly. Tom looked at him too. “You might as well come up here. We’re going to need your help and input on this, anyway.”

Sara gave Percy a slight shove to get him started. Red in the face again, Percy went up and took a seat at the table. “I don’t plan on moving,” Percy said. “I don’t really know what I can contribute. I just wanted to find out how many would be going. And when.”

Tom looked a bit alarmed. “But you will help us with supplies and such, for the trip, won’t you?”

“Well, of course I will. But that’ll be a straight forward barter, just like always.”

“Sure,” Tom said with a relieved smile. “You’ll need to be involved in this so you will know what’ll be needed.”

The open meeting lasted until almost ten that night and was tabled until the next morning, only a few of the details worked out. Essentially the same people showed up at ten the next morning to resume the discussion. The state and federal representatives were actively included in the discussions. There had been no problem having enough volunteers for military service. There would be four going on the trip, plus a couple more going to base duty, including one woman. Not the woman that had asked about it.

There was a plan in place by that evening. Percy was playing a much larger part in it than he had anticipated. He’d found himself volunteering to do this, then that, provide a few things, and supervise some of the preparatory activity. By the time the plan was finalized three days later Percy found himself leading the trek, though he would return, with the military contingent, with the people he was taking to help on the way.

He was thanked many times for agreeing to participate, over the next few days, as preparations began. Many of those going were farmers from the outlying areas. They had a hard time surviving on their farms during the winter. Many had moved in to the school, though not all. While they were discussing what would be required for the trip, Percy realized that while there would be housing, and even some ready food supplies when they arrived, many of those wanting or needing to go would be hard pressed to come up with the quantity of supplies required.

It wasn’t that Percy couldn’t supply the items. He could. The problem was that for the time before they left the people wouldn’t be able to work off the debt, and very few had enough hard currency to pay him. He couldn’t just give his products away to those that needed them. It would cause too many problems with those that were paying.

It hadn’t been in his mind initially, but Percy warmed to the idea he came up with. He talked it over with Sara, then a few key people at the estate. Percy began trading the supplies that were needed, for peoples’ property. When it was property he really didn’t want, he was able to help set up equal trades with other people to get the land adjacent to his.

Percy also took in trade homes and property in town. Many just thought he was being kind to those not able to pay any other way. Which was okay. He would take property even if a person could barter labor, goods, services, or hard money.

Percy tried to get people to understand that he did have reasons for what he was doing. He wasn’t that kind. People nodded, but thought what they wanted. Sara finally told him to quit worrying about it and just take care of business. He worried a little about stripping the estate of too much, but Susie assured him the plan was more than workable.

Susie would stay behind, in charge of the operation, with Jorge Ramirez as foreman. The cadre of already trained farm hands would be able to do everything needed with the equipment they would have. Mattie, Jock and Melissa would also still be at the estate. Andy would be going on the trip, as would Sara.

It would be a wagon train indeed. Not only were their group going, but also when it became known that Percy was leading the trip, many of the other communities and individuals asked to join the group. They were providing their own supplies, but wanted to travel with a large group. Percy sighed and agreed when Howard and Claudia approached him with the idea.

“We knew a lot of people wanted to go, and planned more than one trip, but a large group, while there are problems with it, will get more people there faster and more safely than two or three small groups. It also doesn’t strain us helping nearly as much either,” Claudia said.

“One of the biggest problems,” she continued, is safe drinking water. And our purification system is more than capable of handling the larger group. It was really overkill for just a hundred sixty odd people, but it is the smallest unit we have. It’ll handle the daily needs of at least a thousand. Still a bit overkill for the five hundred or so that looks like will be going.”

“Five hundred!” Percy exclaimed. The idea gave him shivers. It turned out that there would only be four hundred eighty-nine. Percy still shivered when he heard the number.

Most would be taking handcarts of some type on the trip. Some would be walking with backpacks. A few had cars and enough gasoline to go that far. Several from the town were taking the cars that had been converted to run on alcohol. Percy would be taking the tank trailer with a split load. Diesel, gasoline, and alcohol.

In addition to the fuel tank trailer, the Kenworth tractor would be pulling a second trailer with a fifth wheel dolly. It was one of the reefers, to keep food fresh on the trip. It would save on time since they would not have to wait for much of the food to be dried. They’d be able to leave in late June.

Three of the Unimogs would go on the trip, as would the pickup with the bed shell. Percy was leaving behind the Suburban. He was taking the Kenworth based motorhome he referred to as The Beast. It would be towing a box trailer on a fifth wheel dolly. It would carry much of the other supplies that needed to go. Behind the box trailer would be the barge trailer.

Also going would be the Kenworth service truck. It would be towing a second box trailer on a fifth wheel dolly, with more equipment and supplies. It, like the Kenworth Tractor, would pull a second trailer, also on a fifth wheel dolly. It was the flatbed.

The flatbed would carry equipment too, mostly camp gear, which the military had agreed to furnish since there were so many going, including twenty soldiers instead of ten. Since their rate of speed would not be high, the flatbed trailer would be equipped so people could ride on it. Most of the people that didn’t have horse drawn wagons or operable cars would be walking, though it was expected that those with vehicles with space would make arrangements to carry as many people as possible.

As for the military detachment, there would be a Lieutenant in charge, as before, but there would be an additional sergeant and two corporals in the small command making twenty-four in all. The detachment was set up as four squads, each led by a platoon sergeant, with a corporal, and two private-first-class soldiers. They’d have five Hummers, each pulling a trailer. Two of the trailers would be fuel trailers.

Though they had the military Hummers, Percy decided to take the Indian with its sidecar to use for scouting, along with two of the Rokons.

Each of the three Unimogs would be pulling trailers. One Unimog would go with a flat bed, loaded with equipment, with front-end bucket attached. It pulled a trailer carrying several potentially useful implements useable by any of the Unimogs. The implements included the backhoe and a dozer blade, among several others.

Another Unimog was also equipped with a flatbed. It carried equipment on the bed and towed an equipment trailer to carry the pickup, Indian, and the Rokons. The third Unimog was equipped with a box bed to carry the equipment for Percy’s group, and would have a large flatbed trailer that carried yet more supplies and equipment.

In addition to the horses being ridden and pulling wagons, there were at least another twenty that would be herded along. Besides the horses, three bulls, and thirty head of cattle, mostly heifers, were going with some of the farmers. There were several pigs going, but they were all being transported in wagons or trailers.

With people walking, and the stock, Percy figured they’d be able to average ten miles a day. They expected to travel almost seven hundred miles. It would take over two months. The trip back was expected to take less than two weeks.

“Place looks like pictures of Independence, Missouri when it was one of the departure places for the westward migration,” Howard told Percy as they walked through the bustling town. It was bustling because of the dozens of families and large number of individuals preparing to head south toward the outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee, which was now a port city on Memphis Bay of the Gulf of Mexico.

“And I feel like Ward Bond in a bad episode of Wagon Train. If there ever was one. This is not quite what I expected when I agreed to do this.”

“You’ll do fine, Sweetie,” Sara told him. She was walking along side him, her arm linked with his as they checked the various voyagers’ sets of equipment.

“Some of these people are not going to get there with what they started with,” Percy said.

Claudia, walking with them, chuckled and said. “I thought you watched Wagon Train. Of course some of them won’t make it with what they started with. And I bet hard cash that a few drop out before you get there, but that you’ll wind up gaining a few on the trip.”

Her smile faded when she added, “And the condition of a few of them… you may loose a couple, too.”

“I know,” Percy said. “It would be nice if Jock could go, but he and Melissa are both needed here. I want things set up to have a real clinic and at least a makeshift hospital before winter hits. And they’ll be overseeing the new homes going in on the estate.”

Many of those staying behind would be stripping the town of everything useful, including dismantling many of the buildings. The materials would be used to build housing on the estate property east of the barns.

Though not domes, all the new structures would be earth sheltered. There was plenty of material to build the walls heavy enough to carry roofs heavy enough to carry the earth they would be covered with. They would be rather smaller than what would have been built before the war and climate changes, to make them easy to keep heated in the harsh winter.

There were five compounds planned, each a large U shape, almost rectangular, with a central courtyard area that the dwelling spaces would face. Each of the dwellings would house four people easily. Larger families would use two units. There were to be ten dwellings in each compound and four units that could be used for storage and for cottage industry.

Like Percy’s dome structures, the earth roofs would boast walled patios over the entire U, providing much additional space. There would be a gap in the nearly closed U to allow access to the courtyard. The compounds would be side by side, the closed ends of the U’s facing the north and the open end the south.

A sixth compound, similar in construction would be used to house animals. Again, like Percy’s compound, a tunnel would connect the individual compounds, though it would not be built by the simple expedient of setting sections of pedestrian underpass into place in a trench.

Instead, a slightly tapered tube would be constructed of planking and sheet metal, on top of a sheet of plastic. The resulting pipe would be six feet high, five feet wide at the bottom and four feet wide at the top. The sheet of plastic would then be wrapped up and over the pipe and the trench backfilled.

Only two of the housing compounds and the animal compound would be built that summer.

“Amanda,” Percy said, “is going, much like her original plan. She’ll be of great help. I plan to keep her on the payroll until we get there. She’s done such a good job this winter. I’d like to see her set up shop when she gets there, and it will be easier if she has a few assets.”

Sara patted her husband on the shoulder, but said nothing about his remark. They came to the group of military men and Sara excused herself. She needed to go talk to one of the new groups and give them some advice about their vehicle. It would never make it the way it was packed.

“Lieutenant Pastolori,” Claudia said, “This is Mr. Jackson. He’ll be in overall command.”

Pastolori saluted, and then reached out to shake Percy’s hand when Percy held it out. “I’m sorry I’m late, sir. My men and I will get up to speed as quickly as possible. There was a group of bandits preying on two of the communities that had quite a few people come down here. We wanted to take care of the situation before we left. We are the most mobile force in the area.”

“I’m glad you took care of it first, Lieutenant,” Percy replied, looking over the group assembled before him. There was a wide spectrum of men. Young and old, several different races, all different sizes and shapes. Eight of them definitely looked like recruits. The rest of the command looked exceeding competent. Percy was confident the new soldiers would be brought into the fold quickly and easily. They wanted it, and those doing the training obviously knew what they were doing.

Percy continued, “I take it you have the equipment and supplies you need?”\

“Yes, sir,” the Lieutenant replied. He smiled then, showing even white teeth in his rather dark face. “We are looking forward to the fresh rations you have so graciously offered to share with us. I hear that this is the best eating outfit in ten states.”

“I don’t know about that,” Percy said, turning red again. “But we do okay. I have good hands that see to it.”

“Yes, sir. And we will do our best to make sure everyone makes it there safely. And those of us coming back, safely as well.”

Percy never did get Lieutenant to call him anything except Sir and Mr. Jackson. He learned to live with it. Unfortunately, in his eyes, most of the rest of the civilian group began doing the same thing. His people more as an inside joke, because it bothered him a little. The rest out of respect generated from that shown him by the military and the local townspeople. And it was reinforced over time by his actions.

Worry lines wrinkling his face, Percy, two days later, gave the order to move out. The worry lines were justified that first day. They made barely five miles. Three small groups changed their minds and turned back. Two more had vehicles that broke down. Another two ran out of fuel. Despite all the information that had been distributed, they thought fuel was going to be furnished, gratis. Their vehicles, a pair of pickups using gasoline, were huge fuel hogs.

Percy had determined to be firm before they left. He was not going to be a pushover for every little problem and ailment. He needed to get the people to Memphis and get back in plenty of time for the harvest. He knew the projects would go okay without him there, Susie and Jock would see to it. He still wanted to inspect them before winter set in.

Percy had fuel calculated to get everyone there and his group back with a good safety margin. The military the same. Percy would not cut into the safety margin to provide fuel for these two vehicles. They had no way to pay for it, even if Percy had been willing to allow it. He made it up to them to find someone that would provide them with transportation. He would give them enough gasoline to get back to their home, if they couldn’t convince anyone to take them.

Both pairs of men did find someone willing to allow them to travel with them, in return for labor around the camp. Both were families with small children and only the mother and father to care for them and do all the camp work.

Percy was a bit surprised, but the arrangement worked all right. The trucks were abandoned, pushed well off the road. Percy allowed the men to stow their gear on one of the trailers, as he’d made the same arrangement with several others short of space. The four men would take turns helping Percy’s group with their chores in return for the use of the space.

It was nearly midnight when the camp finally was assembled and settled down to Percy’s satisfaction. Despite the lateness of the hour, the orders were to rise at daybreak, and be prepared to travel by seven the next morning.

They were late starting, with some similar confusion about breaking camp, as there had been the night before on setting up the camp. It was almost nine before the Lieutenant’s Hummer led the way. Despite the later than preferred start, they managed to make their goal of ten miles.

The camp setup went much more quickly and the camp was secure by nine. There’d been a few gawkers along the route. Word had traveled ahead of them and it became common to see people along the roads, watching the group pass.

And they did stay on existing roads for the most part. Only when bridges, overpasses, and underpasses were out, or the road was blocked in some way, did they leave the pavement. Some of the pavement was in relatively poor shape after almost a year of no maintenance, but the roads had received very little traffic during that time, either.

The Unimogs and their implements were of great value when a road needed to be cleared, or approaches from and to the roads had to be made when they did need to take a detour.

As Percy had expected, some of the vehicles gave out quickly, despite staying on the pavement most of the time. He’d allowed for some of it, and with the example of the out-of-fuel vehicles, arrangements were quickly made for those whose vehicles could go no further to continue on the trip.

As time passed, they managed to pick up a couple of useable vehicles along the route, by bartering. Percy helped out by trading out some goods with the group needing the vehicle so they would have the resources to make the trade.

Percy was pleased, that despite the time it took to ferry everything across the rivers that lacked useable bridges by using the barge trailer, they were averaging more than the ten miles expected. They chose places to camp at night that had plenty of forage for the animals, so they didn’t slow much during the day to graze.

The military water purification system worked as they were told it would. They even treated the water for all the animals, just in case. The food was holding out well. Percy had allowed for some bartering along the route. They were trading to those that needed it about as often as those that had extra food bartered it to them, primarily for gold and silver, though once in a while, they wanted something else.

Percy always gave first chance at the barters to the group of people moving. He would trade only if no one else wanted the particular trade. Not that he took every trade offered. There were things being offered for trade in which he had no interest. Apparently word was traveling ahead of them by radio that a wealthy band was on the way. People were people. They would get what they could, when they could.

Only once in the first three weeks of travel were they bothered by any form of banditry. They had been warned in one small town they passed through that a band of about ten people were waylaying people traveling the route Percy’s group was taking. Lieutenant Pastolori and his men were ready for the attack when it came.

They’d sent some of the more or less normal vehicles ahead, driven by the soldiers. The Hummers held back, out of easy sight. When the lead car radioed that there was a roadblock ahead, the Lieutenant ordered the Hummers ahead at full speed, top mounted machine guns and grenade launchers ready to fire.

When the bandits saw the cars stop and the Hummers approaching at high speed, they began to fire, but quickly broke away and ran. Three of the bandits were killed outright, another three injured and taken captive. The others got away.

“How many in your group?” asked Lieutenant Pastolori of one of the captives being treated by Amanda.

The man was totally dejected. He was drawn and thin, weak with hunger. “Thirteen of us. Picked up a couple of kids wanted the easy life just a few days ago. Tried to tell them this was no easy life. Slim pickin’s. And now we got the Army convoying people. It ain’t rightly fair. What’cha going to do with us?”

“Legally, martial law is in effect. We have the right to execute looters and bandits caught in the act. But what I’m going to do is treat your injuries, give you enough food for yourselves and the rest of the group that survived, and tell you to go straight. We’re coming back through here in the near future. We hear you’re still active, we’ll hunt you down and execute you. You understand me?”

“I unner’stand,” the man replied. “Billy Joe ain’t gonna like it, but me, I’m agonna do it. I think the others will, too. More power to you if you kill Billy Joe. He’s a mean un’, even afore the war. The rest of us… we just kinda fell into it. Bad mistake. My wife, God rest her, is probably turning in her grave.”

The three men stood along the road by the barricade that had been pushed out of the way by the Unimog with the front-end bucket. Those in the convoy looked on curiously as they passed the three.

The three stood openmouthed as the full impact of what they’d attempted hit them. “We nary stood a chance,” said the one that had been questioned. “Look at them rigs. Billy Joe said they was a rich outfit, but Lordy, I never seen nothing like it. Even without them soldier boys we’d’a lost. Them folks sportin’ more guns than the soldiers.”

The man was right. Though kept out of sight for the most part, nearly every group making the move was carrying arms of some type. That included Percy and his crew. Percy, Andy, Jim, and Bob stood near the former roadblock, HK-91 rifles held at the ready, until every last person, vehicle, and animal was well past it. The Indian and the two Rokons had been offloaded from the trailer and were parked near the Hummers.

When everyone was past, Percy climbed into the sidecar of the Indian, Andy took the controls, and they headed to catch up to the convoy again. Jim and Bob straddled the Rokons and joined them. The Lieutenant left in the last Hummer, bypassing the convoy and took up the lead again.

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