Arnold ended up staying for a while. He wasn’t in a hurry to leave, and I didn’t want to force him; I enjoyed the company. Besides, it was handy to have another pair of hands around for different tasks.
For instance, we went hunting a good deal. The dog and cat population had exploded, and roving packs of wild dogs were becoming a serious issue. Arnold and I experienced a chilling moment when we saw a pack of formerly beloved household pets and their offspring bring down and tear open a deer in a matter of minutes. We had been keeping a herd of about a dozen cows in wooded pasture across the road from our neighborhood, and when the dogs began taking out our calves as well, we declared war. We began driving around in the Humvee and picking off the wild dogs whenever they rotated through our neighborhood. Cats were also everywhere, but we didn’t bother them unless they came in the yard.
During this time, the Guard contacted all the Sierras with important information. “Somehow,” Lieutenant Colonel Patstone announced over the radio on D+170, “NORAD has received what is basically bucket loads of intelligence. I don’t know where they’re getting it, but they have important information concerning the aliens.”
He went on to explain how the Aliens were called “Masters,” and they had wiped off almost every human on the earth to use it as a hunting preserve. They were depositing alien creatures on the surface to hunt, and how we would be better served to just stay out of the way. He also explained how the Masters had chosen Earth because they were mining our uranium to use as fuel for their ships. “And finally,” the Colonel added, “NORAD says that if we see aliens that are, and I quote, ‘three-toed, feline, and monkey-like,’ to treat them kindly. They’re a subject race, apparently, and not on the Masters’ side. Have a nice day, Sierras. Out.”
The Colonel’s casual end to a groundbreaking message had both Arnold and me nervously chuckling. It was reassuring to know that the Masters weren’t necessarily here for us, but the fact that they were bringing alien animals was, quite frankly, rather scary. We had our hands full with just Earth’s creatures.
We explored further and further away from home during this time, heavily armed and sometimes staying away from home for a few days. We rarely found anything of great interest, but one day that changed. We found a train that had been running on D-Day, and had kept going until it rear-ended another, destroying the locomotive. However, we weren’t interested in the engine, but the cars. The train consisted of a great deal of large tank cars, and a few quick checks revealed that every tank was full to the brim with gasoline, and about a dozen with diesel.
Understandably staggered at our newfound wealth, Arnold and I immediately headed home and hooked the trailer up to the Deuce and loaded it with empty 55 gallon drums. We then hit the Armory, took another truck, and loaded it with drums as well. After we had filled every drum with gas, we went back to the house, refilled the tank truck in the driveway, fueled up every vehicle, and then distributed the remaining drums at our safe-houses around town. We made another drip, filled all the drums again, and rolled them all under the house for safe-keeping. Only then did we get on the radio and report our find.
We had been conflicted about this, but I argued that in this new world, it was every man for himself, and this way we could guarantee our fair share.
Once notified, the Guard flew out to check, and then spent the next week filling giant bladders full of the precious fuel and airlifting them to the survivors that needed them most. They were pretty much set for their own fuel, as they had raided every Air Force base and Army post for states around. Arnold and I helped them out a little bit, and during this time I told Arnold that he could live with me for the foreseeable future if he wanted, and he cheerfully accepted. The company would be good for both of us.
Soon, though, tragedy struck.
On D+193, the radio squawked, alerting all Sierras to an emergency broadcast in five minutes. This disconcerted both Arnold and I. An emergency? They hadn’t ever broadcasted that before. Slightly nervous, we each loaded ourselves for bear and slung some go bags in the missile Humvee, ready to roll at a moment’s notice if necessary. However, our emergency preparations were interrupted by Lieutenant Colonel Patstone, who ordered all Sierras to check in.
“Sierras, I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you,” he began, sounding even more tired than usual. I glanced out the window and hefted my rifle. Were the aliens coming?
“At approximately 1835 yesterday, we lost all contact with NORAD via radio. We tried to contact them through other means, and we realized they had gone off the air. Realizing the possible impacts of this, we immediately contacted the surviving NSA and CIA employees in the capital, and they pulled a satellite to observe the site.”
There was a long silence.
“The site,” the colonel continued, “was completely destroyed. Leveled. We don’t know how they did it, but a lone survivor in Grand Junction, Colorado who was in contact with NORAD and thus with NSA, reported that he saw what appeared to be a meteor shower over the mountain at the precise time we lost contact with them.”
What felt like cold water flooded my chest. The aliens could control meteors?
“What I’m getting at, Sierras, is that it looks like we’re alone again. The aliens have decapitated our operation, and we’re left hanging.” He continued, his voice growing slightly stronger, “So basically it’s déjà vu. We’ve taken this load of crap before, and we can take it again. The Guard is at high alert, as are all survivors throughout the country. We’ll keep in contact with you, Sierras. Stay safe.”
The colonel finished his speech and another man came on the frequency to announce that flight ops would be shut down for the next few weeks, except in the case of emergencies. “We don’t want to arouse any suspicions,” he explained.
Arnold and I were crushed but determined. Our biggest asset in the world was gone now, but we weren’t giving up until we’d found every alien that had done this to us and killed them.
We didn’t know it then, but we’d soon get our chance.