Arnold and Steve headed home the next day. I lent them some gas to get road cars and then returned to business as usual. I had taken on a project of clearing the roads I used most, and for that I took my SCHP car. I liked the ram on the front, which allowed me to shove cars out of the way. It was boring work, but it kept my mind busy and made things more convenient. It also yielded unexpected bonuses.
One day while clearing, I discovered a large truck with a tank on the back. After some inspection, I realized that it was a propane truck. I gleefully towed the SCHP car home behind the truck and refilled all my empty bottles. My driveway was quite crowded by now, what with the SCHP car, the Deuce truck with trailer, the giant tanker truck, and now the propane truck. The Corvette and motorcycles were in the garage, and the Stinger-equipped Humvee was in the front yard.
I had kinda-sorta taught myself how to use the vehicle launchers and, while not an expert, could normally lock onto whatever I was aiming at and hit it. I had practiced by burning cars and shooting at those, but in real life, my target would probably be moving.
On D-Day +145, the radio squawked, calling all Sierras to listen in for an announcement. I was interested; this had never been done except for announcing the meeting. I tuned in, and the announcement went as follows:
“Sierras, this is Sierra Alpha, Lieutenant Colonel Patstone speaking. Check in, please.”
All Sierras checked in in order, all the way up to fifteen (a grizzled old man had been found in a double wide in rural Alabama) and then the colonel continued. “Two of the Sierras, Sierras Three and Four, are private pilots. They are current in light aircraft and have a proposition to you. They are offering to fly any local Sierras who want to Atlanta.”
I jumped. This was quite odd. The colonel continued speaking.
“Obviously, it’s dangerous to have so much activity in one place, and the National Guard would not be interested in abetting this mission if we were not already going down there ourselves. We happen to have business, and for that reason we are fine with aiding you to come as well.
“You wouldn’t be able to bring much back, of course,” the radio continued, “But it would provide you with some activity, and it might even be fun. The fuel is sitting at the airport, as much as we want, and we’ve got the airplanes and pilots too. Any takers?”
I checked in, signifying my desire to go, as did several others. I was pleased to see that Arnold, Steve, and Keisha were among them.
“All right, Sierras, thanks for your time. Atlanta group, be ready to be picked up by helicopter at 0500 two days from now. Alpha out.”
I turned off the radio. This would be a lot of fun, but would take preparation. I decided to take the same gun load that I had to the National Guard Post, minus one 1911 and the snubby. I also upgraded to a bigger backpack with more food and water, just in case scavenging got difficult. I also took some blasting wire I had found at a demolition site. Just in case. I then fixed Surefire lights and lasers to all my weapons and cleaned them all. Also just in case.
I watched Firefly until midnight, and then fell asleep. I didn’t do much the next day except varmint hunt around my neighborhood (the rats and cats grew bolder and bolder every day, and even though none of them had made it inside, I wasn’t taking chances). I also took some heavier weaponry for the packs of wild dogs that were making their way through. They were going to be a serious problem if I didn’t do something about them soon.
The helicopter picked me up bright and early the next morning and deposited me back at the post after picking up Arnold and Keisha as well. I found my way underground to the same conference room, where I met Colleen and Daniel. Apparently I was the first here. I introduced myself, and they did the same.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked. Daniel pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose before he responded.
“Well, the Guard has agreed to give us a lift to the airport, where we’ll take two King Airs that are there. We’ll fly down to the airport and land. A few Guardsmen are already there, they flew down last night, and they’ll meet us.”
“Why’d they need to fly down?” I asked curiously. Colleen answered this time.
“To make sure the runways were clear and to begin their own ops,” she said, “They’re probably setting the radio stations up to play continuous messages, but I didn’t ask for sure. Anyway, we’ll then set out in groups of three or four and scout the city for a week or two, just doing whatever. Everyone will be required to check in every twenty-four hours to the Guardsmen at the airport, and they’ll keep an eye on the planes for us and keep in contact with the Post from there. Should be fun!” she concluded brightly.
Over the next half-hour, more people trickled in. There were about eight of us, and Daniel gave them the same briefing he had given me. “Okay . . .” he finally concluded, “I think that’s about it. Steve, Todd, Arnold, Keisha. You’re all with me in Plane One, and the rest of you are with Colleen in the second bird.”
We went out to the tarmac and climbed aboard helicopters. My buddies and I scrambled into the black beast, clanking with weapons and toting a heavy pack. I felt like I was in Delta Force.
The helos brought us to the airport and dropped us off, and we hauled the two King Airs out into the sunlight. Daniel grinned fondly at his. “I’ve always wanted to have one of these,” he said, “Never could have afforded to. Oh well.”
We scrambled and crammed our packs and weapons into the seat next to us, while Arnold cracked us up by scanning us with a security wand he’d found. Finally, though, we were all set. Daniel started both the King Air’s engines and taxied to the end of the runway. He keyed his radio. “Colleen, you set, baby?”
“Not very official-sounding,” Arnold cheerfully observed. Daniel made a shushing gesture as the reply came back.
“Nearly. You go ahead, we’ll catch up.”
“Okay. We’re going.” With a roar, the little plane flew down the runway and lifted off gently. I grinned. I had always enjoyed takeoffs.
Daniel leveled off at about 2,000 feet and turned our nose south. Atlanta, I thought, Here we come!