Is the Mail there Yet? Chaprter 3


Is The Mail Here Yet? - Chapter 3

Ray and Gina had just arrived home for Christmas Break when China made the announcement about Taiwan. Both Prescott children had matured, and both were involved with someone special. They’d brought them home, as well as a friend each, too.

Ray had met Paula Kane in his second year at college and hit it off immediately. They had dated since that time, and Ray wanted his parents to meet her before he asked her to marry him. Ray had also brought along Patrick Giavoni, his campus housing roommate since their freshman year. Like Ray, Patrick was quiet and unassuming, and studious. He’d lost his parents the previous year and really had no place to go during the Christmas break, so, with his parents’ permission, Ray had invited him to join them.

Gina’s two guests were brother and sister. Tony was the same age as Ray, a year older than Gina. She had met him through his sister, Sheila, a classmate that shared many of the same opinions and beliefs that Gina had. Gina had no intention of getting married before she graduated, but wanted her parents to meet Tony anyway. Tony’s and Sheila’s parents were on a Christmas Cruise for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, so Gina had asked brother and sister to visit, again, with Hadley’s and Regina’s permission.

“Boy,” Patrick said, as family and guests watched the news. “Ray, you said China would make a move some time this winter. You hit the nail on the head.”

“Do you think the US will interfere, Mr. Prescott?” Shelia asked. “Gina says you really keep up on the news.”

“I do think they will,” Hadley said. He looked over at Regina. “And I think there might be war in just a few days.”

Ray and Gina exchanged looks. There’d been more to asking their friends to join them for Christmas than just courtesy. They both had seen things deteriorating over the last couple of months.

“How much do they know?” Hadley asked, directing the question to both of his children.

Patrick, Paula, Sheila, and Tony looked on curiously as Ray and Gina exchanged another glance. Ray spoke first. “I think Paula suspects.”

Then Gina added, “I don’t think Tony or Sheila know.”

“Know what, guys?” asked Patrick. “What’s the secrecy?”

“We are preppers, Patrick,” Hadley said. “Some would call us survivalists, though that is a dirty term when the media uses it. We’ve been trying to be prepared for something like this, if it happens again.”

“You mean the terrorists?” asked Sheila.

“This time, I think it’s going to be the major powers.”

“Surely not, sir. With what happened over two years ago, surely no one would use nuclear weapons again.” Patrick sounded very uncertain about his statement. He seldom was like that.

“I’m glad you are,” Paula said. “Ray hasn’t told me anything outright, but I’ve seen his actions and reactions to current events. He always seemed concerned about them, but not frightened. Any time I asked a question about things he always had a well thought out answer, no matter what the subject.”

“You have guns?” asked Tony.

“Yes,” Gina told him. “I have my own rifle. I love to shoot recreationally.”

“I see.”

Gina got a sinking feeling in her stomach. Tony had never really expressed an interest or resistance to firearms.

“I think this could get out of hand very quickly,” Hadley said, bringing attention back to the television report. “We have a retreat outside of the city. I plan to take my family and go there in the morning. Any of you four that want to come are welcome, as long as you understand that it is our way or the highway.” Regina had moved over to sit on the arm of Hadley’s chair. Her hand was on his shoulder.

“Don’t let him scare you,” Regina said. “But it is a serious matter. If you don’t approve, that is your right and responsibility. But if this war happens, it is going to be bad. We don’t want any trouble within our community. There will be enough outside.”

“Do I have time to go shopping for a few items?” Paula asked. “I’d like to get some personal things, in case we have to stay in the shelter very long. And at least contribute some to the common food stocks I take it you have.”

“Of course,” Regina said. “Every little bit helps.” She looked at Hadley. “You were thinking of a supply run, anyway, weren’t you?”

Hadley smiled slightly and nodded.

Patrick was thinking furiously, as he watched the news continue about the announcement. Tony guided Shelia a bit from the rest of those in the living room and they began to discuss the matter. At least, that was what it looked like to the Prescotts.

Suddenly Patrick said, “I’m in, if that’s okay. I need to get to a branch of my bank as soon as possible. I don’t have much available, but I want to get some supplies, too.”

Hadley and Ray were both nodding. Then all looked over at Tony and Sheila. The two finally quit whispering and Tony turned to those in the living room. “If you’ll accept us, we would both like a place in your shelter. I’ve been somewhat against violence, but its beginning to look like violence is going to find me whether I want it or not. We, too, would like to go get some things.”

“Okay,” Hadley said, standing up. “You are now part of our family, so you get family support. We have an emergency fund for last minute acquisitions, if the opportunity presents itself. We seem to have time to get a few last things.”

Ray dug out the keys to the LUV from the rack on the kitchen wall and gave them to Patrick. Tony asked Patrick, “Mind if I tag along with you?”

“Sure. Who else is going?”

“If it’s okay, Gina, I’d like to go with you,” Sheila said. “You know what needs to be done.”


“Ditto that, Ray,” Paula said. “If you’ll take me, I’ll get the things I want and what you recommend.”

“Looks like it’s me and you, Dear,” Regina said, taking Hadley’s hand in hers.

“Give me a minute before you go,” Hadley told the others and hurried upstairs to his and Regina’s bedroom. When he came back down, he handed packets of cash to Patrick, Tony, Sheila and Paula.

All four began to protest, but Hadley asked for quiet and then spoke when he had it. “Like I said. You’re family now. We help one another. We’d be spending it on your behalf, anyway. This way you can get the things you want. Just be thoughtful about the situation. Why you are buying.” The last was directed at Patrick and Tony. Sheila and Paula would both be with experienced preppers and would have the benefit of their knowledge.

The group left, going their own ways. Hadley made several telephone calls before he and Regina left. One was to his work to let them know he wouldn’t be in the rest of the week. He’d only planned to take the one day off. Hadley and Regina were the first ones back despite the initial delay. They had the experience and knew what they wanted in last minute preparations. It was beginning to snow as they parked the G55 AMG in the garage, with Regina pulling her E350 in beside him.

It was still early, but Regina started supper, with Hadley’s help. It was growing dark when the others returned, a pair at a time. Each vehicle was unloaded and the items stacked in the garage for sorting and repacking.

Everyone was ready for supper when Regina announced it was ready. The TV was switched to some Christmas entertainment, and for the moment, the looming disaster was forgotten.

But it all came rushing back the next morning. Hadley was already dressed, a cup of coffee in his hand, watching the news when people began to straggle down from upstairs, and from the den, where Patrick and Tony had spent the night.

There was a sense of urgency that morning, as breakfast was prepared, the vehicles packed, and the house readied for closing for the duration. The four guests looked on in amazement as the Prescotts readied their supplies. Then the equipment and supplies the guests had picked up the previous evening was added to the vehicles, mostly the back of the LUV. The light snow had turned heavy during the night, leaving six inches behind before stopping while the group had breakfast.

At eleven that morning, a veritable convoy of vehicles left the locked-down Prescott home, on the way to the family retreat.

Ray and Paula led the way with his truck, followed by his mother in the E350. Next came Gina and Sheila in her Jeep, followed by Patrick and Tony in the LUV. Hadley brought up the rear to keep an eye on the LUV, which was two-wheel-drive and might have trouble in the snow.

With the snow beaten down in front of it, the LUV made it all right, since it had good tires, though there was some spinning and sliding going on in some stretches. Unlike the first real run to the Retreat, this one was made without incident.

The convoy met another convoy, this one coming from the retreat. It was made up of delivery trucks. Three of Hadley’s calls the day before, beside the one to his work, had been to fuel suppliers.

All the tanks had been topped off, and a semi-truck load of split dried wood had been dumped near the stacked cords that the Prescotts had cut themselves. Lieutenant Gunderson had left the gate open for the family’s arrival, as one of the calls Hadley had made had been to him, letting him know they were coming.

Both housing units were ready to occupy, as was the shelter. There was a short debate whether or not to unload everything, or give it a couple of days to see what happened before doing so.

The debate ended when several high altitude detonations occurred to their east. The attack defense system around the Capital Compound outside of St. Louis was doing its job, destroying the warheads meant for the US Capital. The detonations were visible, but too far away to be a threat to the Retreat. They were the sign needed to get everything unloaded and moved to the shelter.

Lt. Gunderson locked down the housing units he’d just opened up, and secured the motorhome he and his wife lived in. In less than twenty minutes Hadley closed the outer entrance door and then the inner. They were in the shelter for the duration.

Hadley and the Lieutenant went into the airlock between the outside and the shelter while the others were getting themselves settled. There was a wire antenna cable leading into the airlock so a radio could be hooked up. They had several of the inexpensive radios for just such monitoring. If one got fried by EMP, they’d have another they could use, tucked away inside the main part of the shelter.

They didn’t listen long. There was nothing to hear but static. Taking the radio with them, they reentered the shelter. Not long afterwards the shelter shook and then the blast valves on the various air and plumbing systems slammed closed.

Hadley looked at Regina, as all the others started at him. “That had to be the city,” Hadley said softly. He went over to the communications desk and added batteries to the CDV-717 remote reading survey meter. Nothing yet. But it wasn’t long before the needle began to move.

Though they were to the southwest of the city, the mushroom cloud was large enough that it dropped significant fallout on the Retreat for a few hours. The readings were recorded to pin down the peak dose rate, so the time-in-shelter could be calculated.

At first it didn’t look too bad. The radiation had peaked and started to go down rapidly. But two days later the readings started to climb again slightly as fallout from Whiteman Air Force Base and Kansas City began to reach them.

When that peak came and then went, Hadley recalculated their probable shelter stay time, assuming no additional radiation. The much touted two week shelter stay wasn’t going to be enough to be as safe as Hadley wanted them to be. More like twelve weeks. There were groans all around at that announcement.

But the family was well trained and knew exactly what was needed, and the guests quickly caught on. Hadley was a bit leery of both Patrick and Tony at first, but both dropped into the shelter routine without any problems. Regina had already taken Paula and Sheila under her wing and thought of them as her new daughters.

The final design of the shelter, as it was built, was set up for twenty people for two years, to give time for gardens to be planted and harvested after a shelter stay. Many times in the future Hadley said a prayer of thanks for having had the idea to double up the size of the shelter and amount of consumables planned initially when it was just the immediate family, the Lyons, and Stanley and the possible two or three guests.

Even as large as the shelter was, space was at a premium. Everyone felt the need to be alone at times and cooperated with one another when someone indicated by body language the desire not to be bothered.

The time passed slowly, but mid-March finally rolled around. The radiation level was well below 0.5 r, low enough to spend time outside, as long as everyone still spent half the time in the shelter.

There wasn’t much to do outside. Paths were shoveled in the snow to get from the shelter to the other buildings. But without equipment the compound could not be decontaminated well at the moment. There was still three feet of snow on the ground, and it still snowed every few days. It was just too difficult to move the fallout contaminated snow.

The greenhouse was cleared of snow and the heater fired up to get the greenhouse warm enough to start a garden. Lieutenant Gunderson’s wife Henrietta was an avid gardener and guided the others in what to do and how to do it.

Hadley began to notice the long looks toward the distance Tom was making from time to time. He and Sheila often talked together quietly. It came to no surprise, to Hadley at least, when Tom announced he was going to go try to find his and Sheila’s parents in mid-June, when the snow cover finally melted away to just an inch or so.

“I’ll walk if I need to, but I was hoping to borrow the LUV, since it is a surplus vehicle for the group,” he said as he talked to the rest of the group after supper one day. “I have to know what has happened to them.”

“Don’t you know where you are?” Hadley asked. “That you came here for Christmas?”

“We told them,” he admitted.

“Don’t you think they’ll try to find you if they are alive?” Hadley asked then.

Tony shook his head. “I don’t know. I suppose they might.”

“Since they know where you are, and you don’t know where they might be, don’t you think it logical to stay and wait for them to find you?” Ray said.

“Logic doesn’t play into it, I think.” Patrick said.

Hadley, Regina, and Ray all saw the devastated look on Gina’s face. Even having discussed it beforehand, she was having a hard time dealing with it.

Hadley and Regina couldn’t stand seeing their daughter like that. “What about Gina?” asked Regina. “You just going to leave her and go off on a nearly hopeless cause?”

“We’ve discussed it,” Tony said. “I offered to take her with me, but she has refused.”

Gina moved over to stand beside her parents.

“And Sheila?” This time it was Hadley.

“She’s going with me,” Tony replied.

Looking at Sheila, Hadley, as earnestly as he could, told her, “You’re welcome to stay. The fact that Tony is leaving doesn’t affect you and your status here.”

Sheila was biting her lip, tears in her eyes. “I want to find my parents, too. But…” Her voice trailed away and she looked at Tony.

“It’s up to you,” he said. It was a rather cold reply all the Prescotts thought.

Suddenly, out of the blue, Patrick said, “Mind if I tag along, Tony? I might be of some use.”

Tony was surprised, but quickly nodded, a bit relieved. He was determined to do this, but going alone scared him more than he wanted to admit.

With sudden vehemence Patrick turned to Ray and said, “I don’t think I want to stay with a bunch of hoarders and survivalists, with no concern over anyone except themselves.”

It came as a total surprise to Ray and his family. At first Ray was hurt, and then he got angry. “Now wait a minute, Patrick! How can you say…”

“I don’t want to hear it, Ray,” Patrick said. “There are probably starving people out there. People needing medical attention. People needing clean water. You have all that. You could be sharing. But you aren’t. You are hoarding it all for yourselves. Keeping it hidden here, out of sight, guarding it with illegal guns.”

Hadley had heard enough. “Tony, Patrick, Sheila, get your personal things and wait outside. You can have the LUV, plus four cans of gasoline, and a month’s food, each. We’ll get it ready while you wait.”

Patrick obviously didn’t like to be ordered around, but he made no effort to protest. He was the first one out of the shelter. Tony gave Sheila a nudge and she followed Patrick, obviously somewhat reluctantly. Tony, as he started toward the inner door of the shelter stopped, turned and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know Patrick felt that way. I don’t.”

Hadley just nodded and Tony left the shelter. “Ray, monitor the situation. Don’t start anything. I know you’re angry, but don’t let it affect your judgment about people expressing their opinions and choosing a path to travel.”

Ray nodded, spoke quietly to Paula for a moment, and then followed the other three outside, picking up his HK-416 as he went out the door.

“Paula, will you help me get things ready?” Hadley asked, seeing Regina taking Gina over out of the way, trying to comfort her.

“Of course, Mr. Prescott.” Paula had taken an active role in the shelter and decontamination, giving good input when asked and working as hard as the Prescotts.

It took only a few minutes to put together enough food for three people for a month. It was put in some of the empty cardboard boxes the #10 cans had come in. Hadley wasn’t about to give them the expensive shipping containers much of the equipment and supplies were stored in.

Outside, Ray stood some distance from Patrick, Tony, and Sheila. Patrick had already gone to the LUV and had it started. He called to Tony and the two of them began to move the gasoline cans from the small bermed shed that protected them.

“Just the four,” Ray said quietly when the two men headed back to the shed after loading the first four twenty-liter cans.”

“Figures,” Patrick said, just loud enough for Ray to hear. “You going to shoot me if I get more?”

Ray didn’t answer. Patrick had a look on his face that said he really wanted to get more of the fuel. But he didn’t.

A few minutes later Hadley and Paula came outside, Hadley carrying two boxes and Paula one. “Ray, there are two more boxes.”

Ray headed for the shelter, pointedly handing his carbine to his father after Hadley put the boxes he was carrying in the back of the LUV. He stepped away and waited for Ray. Paula stood beside him, to show her support for what he was doing.

It was only moments later that Ray came out with the other two boxes of food. “Better get a container of water, too,” Hadley told Ray. Ray went back into the shelter and returned with a collapsible five-gallon container of water and put it in the truck, too.

“Be on your way,” Hadley said, looking at the three. He handed the carbine back to Ray and took the remote for the gate out of his hip pocket. Touching a button the gate slid to the side, opening the way for the three to leave.

“What about a gun?” Tony asked hesitatingly.

“We won’t need one,” Patrick said coldly.

Hadley, Ray, and Paula turned around when Gina, standing in the outer doorway of the shelter said, “Here’s my Ruger 10/22. I need to graduate to one of the HK-416’s, anyway.” She held it out, but didn’t leave the door of the shelter, her mother standing beside her.

“Gina…” Tony said, walking over to get the rifle. “I…”

“Goodbye, Tony,” Gina said as she handed him the rifle and a fifty-round box of cartridges. She turned and went back into the shelter, followed by her mother.

With a sigh, Tony went over to the LUV. Patrick and Sheila were already inside. Tony slid the Ruger behind the bench seat and climbed in beside Sheila. As Patrick put the little pickup in gear, Hadley said, “Don’t bother coming back. You won’t be welcome.”

“Not likely,” Patrick replied, venom in his voice. “And don’t be surprised to see the masses at your door step. I plan to tell everyone I see what you have here. And when we find the authorities, I plan to tell them about your guns.”

It was a very near thing. Hadley had his right hand on the butt of the Glock 21SF in the inside-the-waistband holster in the small of his back in an instant. It took all his control not to pull it free and put a bullet in Patrick’s head. But stony faced, Hadley merely said, “Do what you think you must. And try to justify what you’ve said with the fact that you stayed here, in safety, the entire time, eating food we had put aside for just such an eventuality.”

Patrick cut loose with a string of obscenities and floored the accelerator of the truck, spinning the rear tires as he steered it for the open gate. Hadley, Ray, and Paula watched the vehicle until it was out of sight. It was the last the family ever saw of heard of the three.

Lt. Gunderson lowered the old M1 Garand from his shoulder and quietly made his way back inside the greenhouse to help his wife from where he’d been standing at one corner of the retreat, keeping an eye on the situation.

Paula asked to be taught how to shoot, in order to contribute to the Retreat’s defense if Patrick did, in fact, incite survivors to come and try to take over. But nothing happened and the family quit worrying about the specific possibility of someone finding out about the Retreat from Patrick. Being discovered was a risk, anyway, and they acted accordingly.

It took only a few days for Gina to return to her normal self. She and Paula became fast friends as time passed. If the subject of Tony came up, which it seldom did, all she would say was, “It was his choice. Water under the bridge. He’s no longer a part of my life and never will be again.”

As the weather finally warmed up, the outdoor garden was put in, primarily root crops and crops needing quite a bit of space, like corn. In July, after a family meeting, which included the Gundersons and Paula, it was decided to go exploring. To see if there were other survivors in the area. The Retreat was equipped with a shortwave receiver, but there had been very little radio traffic in the months they’d been in the shelter.

Hadley and Lt. Gunderson would go, taking Ray’s pickup in case they found anything they needed to bring back. They couldn’t get close to the city. The radiation levels were just too high to be safe. With enough food and other supplies for a week, the two men turned the truck around and began to investigate the area around the Retreat.

After making a complete circle around the area where the Retreat was located, they made their way back. In a way, it was good news that they gave the others in the Retreat. But it was mostly disappointment that everyone felt when they heard the news.

There simply weren’t many survivors in the area. The few they’d met were sickly and barely scraping out an existence hunting the few animals in the area that survived, and growing gardens that wouldn’t produce much until much later. Most had salvaged food from surrounding houses, that had kept them fed this long, but there was no more of that to be had.

It was a long, solemn discussion that took place on whether or not to try to help some of the locals in need. Though no reference was made to Patrick, the accusations he’d made haunted a few of the family. The decision was made to keep the supplies to themselves. The chance of the others surviving through the coming winter, even with some help from the Prescotts, was very slim. The survival of the family was more important.

As hard of a decision it had been to make, it turned out to be the correct one. The harvest from the conventional garden was small, cut short by the early winter that began in October. The quality of the harvest was good. There just wasn’t much of it.

Lt. Gunderson and Ray went out often, looking for wild game, but found little. Like the other survivors, human ones, the animals had not fared well with the levels of radiation the area had experienced. The area would eventually repopulate, as game entered the area from clean areas. They would prosper, since there would be little competition for the resources for a long time. But that would take years.

Despite the amount of supplies they had, the Prescotts met again the following spring and considered on whether or not to move southward, to warmer climes. Perhaps all the way to the Gulf of Mexico for the resources it would supply.

But with small signs of the return of small and large game, and Amateur Radio reports of a recovery effort being made by the federal government, the group decided to stay with the Retreat as their base.

There were just too many advantages at the Retreat to abandon it. But it was decided to try and make contacts south of them. That seemed to be where the most activity was. The Retreat was on the southern edge of where the severity of the winters precluded attempts to restart civilization. St. Louis and the nation’s capitol was on the same north south boundary.

So another reconnaissance trip was scheduled. This time Gina insisted on going with Hadley and the Lieutenant. There was no talking her out of it. Come the first break in the weather, with a month’s worth of supplies for three people, and all the diesel the truck could hold in its tanks and in containers that would fit in the back, the three of them headed for the Ozarks of Missouri, due south of the Retreat. There had been some contact in the area and a tentative welcome to visit.

But first the trio would approach St. Louis and see if the government was actually running and whether or not it was friendly to survivors, particularly preppers. So, with the goodbyes said, Hadley put Ray’s truck in gear and the three adventurers left the Retreat.

As the previous scouting trip had shown, there wasn’t much going on near the Retreat. Not until they approached the furthest outskirts of the Capital Complex did they run into any significant activity.

Though they didn’t approach any of them, the trio saw several farms that seemed to still being operated. What they did do, was slow down and stop, with their firearms ready, but out of sight, when they approached a farm bob-truck on the road.

The other vehicle began to slow. And the two occupants weren’t hiding their weapons. The large truck stopped well ahead of the pickup. “Well,” Hadley said, “One of us has to make a move.” Slowly he opened the door of the pickup and slid out of the bucket seat onto the ground, his HK-91 held up over his head. He pointedly put it back inside the truck and stepped away from it, his hands still in the air.

“Okay if I approach?” he asked, lifting his voice slightly so those in the bob-truck could hear him.

“Come ahead,” came the call back. “Keep your hands up where we can see them.”

Hadley did as requested, walking slowly up to the large truck. “We’re looking to make contact with the Federal Authorities,” he said when he stopped a few feet from the driver’s side door. “Is that a good idea, or not?”

“What do you mean, or not?” asked the driver. He held a lever action .30-30 just out of line with Hadley’s body. “They’ve been starting things back up. Slowly. But they’re making progress.”

“It was just…” Hadley hesitated slightly. A little white lie wouldn’t get him barred from Heaven, he hoped. “There’ve been some rumors they’re detaining people and taking away their supplies.”

“Just rumors,” the man replied, rather angrily. “The new President is doing everything he can to get the country back on track. As long as a person isn’t being an outlaw, stealing and robbing from those that made it through the war and aftermath, they’ll help with food and a little fuel. You turn out to be an outlaw, preying on the helpless, you’ll hang.”

“I see,” Hadley replied. “That’s what I wanted to know. Thanks. Is there a best way to approach the Capital Complex, or just drive up?”

“You have a funny way of putting things, mister,” said the man. “Of course you just drive up. They’ll want to get survivor information and kind of do a census. Check you for communicable diseases and all, but they aren’t going to take your stuff away from you. Not unless you make real trouble.”

“Okay, thanks.” Hadley put his hands down and started back toward the pickup, flinching slightly as the driver of the bob-truck put it back in gear with a loud clash coming from the transmission.

Once back in the pickup and the bob-truck past them, Hadley filled in Gina and Lt. Gunderson. “What do you think?” he asked them when he had finished.

“I think you should let me off before we get there and the two of you go on in. If you don’t come out in a reasonable amount of time, I’ll do what I can to get you out. Can’t make promises, but I’ll try.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Hadley said and once again headed for the Capital Complex.

They began to see signs of the military presence as they approached the Complex. They didn’t seem to draw much interest from those that saw the truck. Lt. Gunderson had Hadley stop at a likely place and he faded into the woods with his Garand and pack.

It wasn’t until they came to the check point to enter the Complex itself that they had to stop for a road block. It was a conventional security entrance set up with a guard shack and a barricade arm across the roadway. “State your business,” said the Corporal that stepped out of the guardhouse when Hadley brought the pickup to a stop.

“We’re trying to find out what is going on,” Hadley said. “We survived the war just outside Jefferson City and are looking for information on how to get work and buy supplies. And just check in to let the authorities know we survived.”

“Okay. Two of you?” the Corporal asked, looking into the cab of the truck. “Give me a moment.” The guard stepped back into the guard house and seemed to be working on a computer. Less than two minutes later he stepped back out and handed Hadley two simple ID tags.

“Wear these at all times until you get registered. They’ll give you a new ID. Holstered handguns are okay. Leave your long arms in the truck. Go directly to processing. Anyone finds you anywhere else with these initial badges and you risk some serious trouble. Understood?”

“Processing?” Hadley asked.

“Just follow the signs.” The professional look softened a bit. “Don’t worry. We’re not the autocratic rule so many predicted before the war.” He winked at Gina and she colored slightly.

“Okay. Thank you, Corporal,” Hadley said and drove into the Complex when the bar was lifted.

“He seemed nice enough,” Hadley said, smiling at Gina.

“Oh, hush!” Gina replied, turning a deeper shade of red.

It took a few minutes to get to the processing center, but the route was signed well. “This doesn’t look too foreboding,” Hadley said as he parked alongside a similar truck. There was quite a bit of activity in and around the building, with the only sign of military presence the two armed guards flanking the entrance of the building. “We do like the Corporal said, Gina. Side arms only.”

During the shelter stay and afterward, Gina had insisted on learning to shoot one of the HK-416’s the family had acquired, as well as a pistol. Like her mother, she opted for a PPK in .380. With both Hadley’s rifle and Gina’s carbine behind the front seats of the truck, the two exited it and locked all four doors.

Still somewhat tense, the two headed across the parking lot and up the steps of the processing center. The guards gave them a look and then one opened the door for them.

Processing center was right. It took them a long time to go through the process of becoming a United States Citizen again, but there were no micro-chips implanted, or numbers tattooed anywhere. Just background information taken, and existing ID’s checked.

They were checked by doctors, but since both could and did state truthfully that they had not contacted any diseases since the war, and had suffered no radiation sickness, they didn’t even get any shots. With new ID’s and a clean bill of health, they entered the next to last stage of the process.

It was one of the longer ones, and involved as complete an accounting of their activities since the war as possible. They were also asked about the presence of any other survivors and their state of affairs.

Hadley was confident enough of the situation to give the clerks the information about the family, though he didn’t say anything about the Gundersons. He was given similar ID’s for Regina, Ray, and Paula, with the request that they contact the closest authorities as soon as they could for verification and official inclusion in the census that was being taken.

The final process brought them back together in a room with a dozen or more tables manned by one or two people each. It was, in effect, a recruitment center. There was much work to be done to rebuild the country, and any help from the surviving citizens was welcome, though not mandatory.

Hadley and Gina went around the room, checking each of the work programs out. Hadley’s business experience could be put to use as a local representative for the area around the Retreat, until local government could be reestablished. There was a small stipend for the work.

Another thing Hadley signed up for was to provide a location with a secure water and sanitation system for personnel that would eventually come into the area of the Retreat. Again, Hadley would be compensated for the service the Retreat would supply.

Gina didn’t find anything that she could do at the Retreat, but there were many openings in the Complex and at several of the sites that had been set up around the country to help in the rebuilding process. She took the information with her. She didn’t know about Hadley’s offering of the Retreat as a bivouac area.

It was late when the two got back in the pickup and left the Complex. They met Lt. Gunderson at the appointed spot and filled him in on the operation. “I tell you, Edward, that it all looks legitimate. I think the powers that be, no matter how they came into power, are trying to do the best they can to get the country back on its feet, with the original values that made the country great.”

“Okay. I’ll go in tomorrow and get tallied in with the rest.”

They set up their small camp in an out of the way place the Lieutenant had found and were undisturbed during the night. The next morning Hadley and Gina took him to the same gate they’d used before.

“You’re back, I see,” said the same guard that had checked Hadley and Gina in the day before. “With reinforcements. That’s good. Can’t blame you for being cautious. Things were tough in the early days.” He was talking to Hadley, primarily, but his eyes stayed mostly on Gina.

Hadley drove to the processing center after the Lieutenant got his preliminary ID and dropped the Lieutenant off. Then he and Gina did a bit of sightseeing. On foot. The US Capital Complex wasn’t the sprawling District of Columbia city of Washington. Built in lean, streamlined design, the complex was efficient, with a beauty all its own in the simplicity of style and structure that led to streamlined government that was the new norm.

There were a few things that were the same, and Hadley and Gina had no real objection. They couldn’t go into certain building armed. But unlike the old days, where the weapons were discouraged to the point of making it obvious that weapons weren’t wanted at all, much less in the buildings where opinions could fly and tempers flare, there were lockers available to secure weapons that were the expected norm now.

One of the places where weapons weren’t restricted, quite fittingly, was in the building where the original copy of the Constitution was kept, in the same type of special protective display that had survived the terrorist attack on Washington, D. C. so many years ago.

“Nice to know we’re going back to our roots, doesn’t it?” Hadley asked Gina, in a quiet voice befitting the lofty stature of the document.

“I’ve learned so much since we began to prepare, way back when,” Gina replied, her voice also quiet. “What they were teaching us in schools back then… Even after the terrorist attacks… It is amazing the government didn’t just turn over and hand the country to those that wanted to see us destroyed.”

Hadley put his arm over his daughter’s shoulder and gave her a hug. “Times change. Even in the worst of times, good things can happen.”

Suddenly, from behind them, came a voice speaking just as softly as Hadley and Gina had. “It’s an amazing document, isn’t it?”

Startled, Hadley and Gina spun around, both reaching for their side arms.

The man that had spoken gave a small wave of his hand to four men that were also in the process of drawing weapons. “Sorry to spook you,” the man said. “It’s just we get so few visitors, I just had to speak.”

One of the men obviously guarding the speaker said, “Five minutes, Mr. President.”

Again the wave of acknowledgement.

“Mr. President?” Hadley asked.

The President held out his hand. “I’m afraid so. President Alexander Hutchison.” Hadley shook his hand and then so did Gina.

“I knew we had a President,” Hadley said. “Just didn’t know who. We haven’t had much contact with the outside world the last few years. Just came in from the cold. So to speak. From what I’m seeing and hearing, you are doing a good job.”

The President chuckled. “Thank you, sir. So, you were a surviva… Oh. I believe the proper term now is prepper?”

Hadley nodded. “Southwest of Jeff City.”

“That close?” President Hutchison said, rather sadly. “And we just now are making contact? I take it you didn’t participate in the election, such as it was?”

“We didn’t try very hard to make contact, sir,” Hadley hastened to explain. “We didn’t hear about an election. We’re on the edge of the bad weather patterns. It’s probably more important to take care of the areas where there are more survivors, anyway.”

“Perhaps,” the President replied. “I’ve found it difficult to set priorities. The changes in weather patterns have had an affect on decisions. By necessity, I’m afraid. We don’t want to forget anyone, but still…”

“Mr. President,” said the leader of the security detail.

“I’m sorry. It was good to talk to you, Mr...”

“Prescott, sir. Hadley Prescott and my daughter Gina. My wife and son, and his fiancÚ are at the Retreat.”

President Hutchison began walking backward, toward the security detail, obviously reluctantly. “I say, if you come around again, feel free to stop in and say hello.”

“We will, sir. Thank you,” Hadley replied, still a bit dazed by the chance meeting. His guards surrounded him again as the President hurried off to do whatever it was that needed doing this time.

“Wow! Dad! That was really the President! Talking to us like normal people.”

Hadley laughed. “Like normal people? You don’t think we’re normal?”

“Oh, Dad. You know what I meant.”

“Of course I did. It was rather amazing. I wonder if he really meant that invitation?” Hadley mused as they headed for the door.

“I bet he did. Wouldn’t Mom get a kick out of meeting the President of the United States!”

“Can you imagine?”

“Dad, do you remember President Hutchison from before the war?” Gina asked as they headed back to the parking lot where the truck was.

“The name rings a bell. I didn’t want to embarrass us by asking him what department he was the head of after they moved the Capital, before he became President.”

When they arrived back at the processing center they unlocked the truck and sat down inside, leaving the doors open as they waited for Lt. Gunderson. They didn’t have long to wait. Having heard the process from Hadley, the Lieutenant was able to get through it a bit faster than Hadley and Gina had.

“You look a bit… What should I say?” asked Hadley when the Lieutenant came up to the truck. “Astounded?”

“I suppose so,” Lieutenant Gunderson said, stopping to lean against the side of the truck. “They recalled me to duty. Offered, actually. It wasn’t mandatory. They want some of the old timers back in the force. Though that wasn’t quite how they put it.” The Lieutenant laughed.

“When I told them I was part of a group over near Jeff City, they put me in command of the area. I have to take a month’s training, and then I’ll be issued a vehicle, with an allotment of fuel and food for Henrietta and me. You said you were going to let the military billet people, so I figure I can operate out of the Retreat, if that’s okay?”

“Of course,” Hadley replied. “I don’t see any problem with it. When do you start the training?”

Rather sheepishly Lieutenant Gunderson said, “Tomorrow. I’ve got chits for food and accommodations to stay here during the time.”

“What about your wife?” Gina asked.

“She’s a good one. She’ll understand. I just wish we could get word to her a little sooner than when you get back.”

Hadley looked at Gina. “I know we were going to the Ozarks to check it out, but I believe this is more important. We can go back home and make that trip later. What do you think?”

“I think it’s the right thing to do, Dad,” replied Gina.

“Let me get my gear and you guys can do what you need to do,” the Lieutenant said, reaching into the rear passenger compartment of the truck and pulling out his rifle and pack.

Hadley and the Lieutenant shook hands and Hadley said, “We’ll see you then, in about a month.”

The Lieutenant nodded. “Probably just over. Tell Henrietta I love her and will be back as soon as I can.”

With that, Hadley and Gina got back in the truck and headed for the gate. A well worn Humvee stopped beside the Lieutenant and he got in, headed for his temporary quarters.

When they reached the gate it appeared that the guard was being changed. There was a line of outgoing vehicles and Hadley had the truck stopped well back from the vehicle in front of him. Hadley noticed that the guard that had checked them in both days was walking toward them, apparently on his way to his barracks.

Hadley wasn’t the only one that noticed. Gina quickly rolled down her window, getting it down just before the guard came up, crossing over between the pickup and the vehicle in front of it, to be on the passenger side of the pickup.

“Leaving?” the guard asked, stopping and leaning against the side of the truck. “How’d it go? Where’s your friend?”

“He’s joining up again,” Gina said. “He’s going to be the head of the Military presence in the area around our Retreat. My father is the Civilian contact for the area.”

“Wow! I’m impressed. You guys are important people!” He chuckled, showing he was joking. A little. Suddenly he added, “You think your friend will have a detachment with him?”

Gina looked over at her father. Another vehicle went around them to leave as Hadley spoke. “He didn’t say specifically, but it was implied that he’d be in command of a small detachment.”

“What do you know?” said the guard. His nametag read Kennedy, Gina noticed. “I’ve been thinking about asking for a field assignment. Things have settled down here.”

“Maybe we’ll see you at the Retreat then, Corporal Kennedy,” Gina said.

“You just might, at that. I’m Jay Kennedy.” He reached out and Gina took his hand for a quick hand shake. “Gina Prescott,” Gina replied. “And my Dad. Hadley.”

“Mr. Prescott,” Jay said, with a nod at Hadley.

“Corporal,” replied Hadley. He was going to find it hard to wait to tell Regina all about the episode.

The guard at the gate whistled and waved Hadley forward. Gina rolled up the window, a thoughtful look on her face as Hadley drove up to and then through the gate. He saw Gina cut her eyes toward him, and then quickly away. He didn’t say anything.

Regina and the others were delighted at the news, and the early return of Hadley and Gina. Henrietta took the news about the Lieutenant calmly. “Should have figured he’d get involved again, if he could. Didn’t take to well to his retirement. Except for this last job. Thanks to you and your family, Hadley.”

“We were lucky to have you with us,” Hadley replied. “If you want, you can go check in personally, with Regina, Ray, and Paula when they go. Give you a chance to see him.”

“I’ll go, to get registered. If I know the Military, he’ll probably be out on maneuvers.” Henrietta laughed.

With detailed directions, Regina, Ray, Paula, and Mrs. Gunderson headed for the Capital Complex two days after Hadley and Gina returned.

A little over a month after the second group returned to the Retreat, Lieutenant Gunderson returned as well, with two squads of soldiers. They set up camp just outside the Retreat fence, and had the equipment to set up flush toilets and showers for the detachment, using the water supply and septic system on the Retreat.

Jay Kennedy was the Lieutenant’s aide. He and Gina spent quite a bit of his off time together.

It wasn’t long before several of the other survivors in the larger area migrated to the immediate area for the real advantages of having support structures available through the military. A tent town arose, and then portable buildings and housing units. Hadley set up a trade store, to make transfer of goods easier, though gold and silver coins were beginning to make a comeback as currency.

A military chaplain, making the rounds of the various military outposts, performed the ceremony of marriage for Ray and Paula, and Gina and Jay.

Word began to spread of the slow recovery in central Missouri, due in large part to Hadley’s statesmanship, and the assistance the military was providing. When the next election was held, Hadley was encouraged to run for Governor of Missouri and won by a slim margin over his only real opponent, another Retreat Compound leader, located in the Missouri Ozarks.

It would take another one hundred years for the nation to become a real nation again, but it happened, with Hadley’s family in the forefront of the process.

Copyright 2007
Jerry D Young