The trip took us about an hour and a half. As we approached the city, Arnold called ahead to the Guard and confirmed the runway was clear. Both planes landed without incident and we taxied to a smoking flare. Several Guardsmen emerged from the terminal building, and we shut down the plane and got out.
“How was your flight?” A Hispanic man with sergeant’s stripes inquired. His nametag read ‘Garcia.’
“Fine,” Arnold replied, “Went well. I understand you need to brief us?”
“Sure, step inside.” We followed him into the building and up to one of the departure gates. The Guardsmen had apparently selected it based on the amount of light from the skylights and giant windows. There were sleeping bags and cots everywhere.
Garcia seated himself on a cot. “Okay, updates. We’ve got the tower radar running. We rigged it up to run off a jet fueled engine. We’ve got a 747 with full tanks sitting next to the tower, so it should run for a couple weeks.
“Now for you guys going out into Atlanta, keep in mind that the streets are murder. Going by car will be nearly impossible. There, is, however, a rental vehicle place down the entry road, and they’ve got a couple mopeds.
“Also, Atlanta’s a big city, and some blocks apparently still have power; I have no idea how. Just keep that in mind; they’re good places to get some real showers.
“Two more things to remember. We’ll be flying around the city a good deal, keeping an eye on things, looking for survivors, and going about our business here. As a matter of fact, if we hadn’t already been coming down here, we wouldn’t have helped out at all with your guys’ scavenging trip. But since we’re all here, we’ll try and alert you if something’s going down.
“Last thing: Don’t go too far. Everyone’s leaving in two weeks, unless of course you want to stay here. Be my guest. But remember, if you walk in one direction for a week, you have to be able to get back here in another.
“That’s all I can think of. Have fun.”
We thanked the sergeant and found our way out. Arnold, Steve, Keisha and I were all in a group, and we hit the car rental lot to liberate a large van. We drove this down to the main road, where congestion grew too bad to drive. We left the car and moved down the gridlocked road, heading towards downtown Atlanta, all of us armed to the teeth and ready to see the sights.
I had my aforementioned battle pack, of course. Steve had a pump 20-gauge shotgun and a bandolier of extra shells. He also had a Beretta handgun and multiple spare magazines. Keisha had her Kimber rifle and plenty of extra magazines, and a Glock 31 on her hip. Arnold had an AK47 with a large scope and Surefire light. Factor in the food and water we had, and we were all carrying a lot of weight. We also each had our radios to contact the Guard or each other if we got separated. We certainly made an odd group.
“Anywhere particular you guys want to go?” Steve asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I thought of the police station, and Atlanta had its own SWAT team, so we can have a little fun.”
“Maybe find a big grocery store,” Keisha suggested, “And I’d like to get some stuff from a fancy store. Just for fun, y’know?”
Arnold grinned. “My tastes are less noble,” he said, “I’m just here for fun. I’ll do what you guys want to do.”
We finally all agreed to camp out a grocery store that night, because there was no way we would get downtown before dark. We found a Wal-Mart that still had power, and set up tents and sleeping bags from the outdoor department. Arnold snagged a couple movies, some of which he stuffed in his bag to take home, and others he inserted into a large TV. I followed his lead, taking a few CDs and movies, along with some magazines.
We watched movies for a few hours, and then went to bed in new sleeping bags and tents. I tossed and turned for several hours, and finally left my tent to sit in a lawn chair by the TV. I was surprised to find Arnold already in it, quietly typing on a laptop.
“Hey, dude,” I greeted him.
“You that nervous?”
“Yeah. I am.”
“Why? There’s no aliens here, they’re all-” He cut me off.
“In Massachusetts and Florida. I know. But still . . . what if they decide they like urban hunting, like in Predator II? Then we’re all screwed.”
I thought about this. He certainly had a point, but I didn’t want to think about it. “Screw it,” I replied, grinning wolfishly at him, “That movie stunk anyway.”
Arnold did not look very reassured. I settled into my chair. “How’d you survive, Arnold?” I finally asked, quietly so as not to disturb the others. Arnold looked up.
“That’s actually what this is about,” he replied, gesturing at his computer, “I’m writing down everything that’s happened. In answer to your question, though, I was in a faraday cage at a power plant in North Carolina. When . . . this happened, I stole a car and drove home. After I recovered myself, I set about making a new life. I thought I was the only person in the world . . .”
His voice trailed off. I knew exactly how he felt. The numb, cold, empty shock of realizing I was alone had nearly killed me.
“Well, you’re not,” I said, punching him on the shoulder, “You’re with us, you’ll be fine.”
Arnold smiled slightly at this, and then went back to typing. I fell asleep in my chair, and woke up when Keisha threw a flashbang to rouse us.