Eager to test my radio, I called the post next morning after Steve went back to the library. I realized as I turned the radio on that they had never told me what to call. I shrugged, turned the radio to channel one and keyed it.
“This is Sierra Niner calling National Guard, over.”
“Sierra Niner, this is Sierra Alpha. How do you read, over.” The voice from the other end was slightly scratchy, but otherwise very clear.
“Pretty good, Sierra Alpha. Just checking in.”
“Roger, Niner. You doing okay?”
I grinned. Apparently the apocalypse meant you could relax radio standards a bit. “Niner. Roger Alpha, I’m fine. Got a visit from your buddies the other day and that cheered me up a good bit, over.”
“It would indeed. Nice to know you’re not alone, over.”
“It sure does. Have you heard from Sierra Eight yet, Alpha? Over.”
“Negative, Niner. Do you have reason to be concerned for him, over.”
“Negative, just wondering. Have a good day, Alpha. Out.”
“Roger, Alpha out.”
I put the radio down. Having a way to communicate with a network of other people cheered me up to no end. I felt safer, too, which was really saying something, seeing as I had guns stashed all over my house, from the bathroom to the pantry.
The next few days passed quickly as I occupied myself by digging a latrine pit in the backyard with my front end loader. It was difficult work, as it I didn’t want it to fill up for a year. When I was finished, I had a twenty foot deep hole. I liberated a 3’x21’ pipe from a construction site and maneuvered it vertically into the hole. This was the hardest part, as I had to alternately lift it with the front end loader and maneuver it in with a liberated backhoe.
By the end of that day, I had lowered the pipe all the way into the hole, with a foot of it still sticking out. I used the front end loader to push the dirt back into position around it, and I then attached a cover and seat made of wood over the top and built a shack over it. I had left the other end of the pipe open so the waste could hopefully filter out into the ground.
I was quite pleased with my first big project, and promptly called Steve to tell him about it. He was amused but congratulated me. Exhausted from my work, I took a brief shower and went straight to bed, turning my heater on high to combat the winter cold.
The next week passed slowly. Boredom and tedium had started to set in, and I began to find new and unique ways to amuse myself. I took to breaking in to now-abandoned houses and digging through them for no reason. At one point, I spent a very agreeable few days in a large house with tons of natural light. They had an extensive library, and I indulged myself for three or four days, lounging on the couch with my rifle next to me, reading thick novels. During this time, Steve and I celebrated New Year’s Eve on D+98 in the same fashion as I had at Christmas: by drinking ourselves into a state of cheerful inebriation.
During this time, I began to erase my life. I liberated several PODS from downtown and began to fill them up with anything. I took picture frames, printers, files, chairs, decorations of any sort, or anything that was of no use to me and threw them in a pod. Once a pod was full, I sealed with duct tape and expanding foam, locked it up, and put them across the street in my neighbor’s backyard. I told myself that I did it because memories of my previous life would only hold me back now, and I needed to be fully focused forward to survive in the New World.
Another thing I took to doing was set up safe houses all around town. For instance, I found a retail store that had been an old bank, and I filled their vault with camping supplies, a pallet of canned food, and ten gallons of bottled water. I did this in several places around downtown and the urban areas. Like a squirrel, I thought.
I also continued to crack wall safes and cash registers. The money inside them was completely useless, but it was a diverting experience. Steve found this amusing, and he mostly stayed inside his giant library, reading cheerfully and foraging for food when he ran low.
The National Guard in our area became more and more active as their perimeter expanded. They broke into hospitals to update their own small one. They flew patrols constantly and probed the sky with radar, searching for any aliens. The only activity on the East Coast had been one brief landing in Washington D.C. and two or three landing in the Everglades, but they still saw themselves as responsible for our safety.
They also found more survivors. The good news was that by D-Day + 130, they were up to 14. The bad news was that they were scattered over seven states. When Sierra 14, a fourteen year old girl, was discovered, the Guard announced that they were holding a meeting at their base, and they would send helicopters to pick us up.
“We have some important and sensitive things to share, and we believe it will be beneficial for all the Sierras to meet each other face to face,” Lieutenant Colonel Terry Patstone, the National Guard post commander, announced over the radio.
I was nervous but excited upon hearing this. It would be great to see more people, but my home, in some primal, inexplicable way, had become my den. The thought of departing it for some distant location, even temporarily, almost terrified me.
“Grow a pair,” I told myself irritably, “You’ll be fine.” That didn’t keep me from arming up, though. On the day the Guard arrived, I had my M4 and grenade launcher, about a dozen spare magazines, four extra 40mm grenades, two 1911s, my .357 in an ankle holster, and a battle vest with numerous useful bits on it, from my radio to flares to fragmentation grenades.
Almost as a gag, I had also put a Thompson Center Contender pistol in .45-70 in a holster on my thigh, with a bandolier of extra shells dangling from my belt on the other side. It was hardly the most effective fighting weapon, but its enormous shell and incredible accuracy made it worth it. I also had a backpack with a day’s supply of food and water with me; just in case.
All during preparation, I was torn between leaving my hole and seeing other people, or shrinking back behind locked doors. Several times I wondered if this was what going crazy felt like.
I finally decided to go. Seeing more real people would probably keep me from going completely crazy . . . I hoped.
The next day, around 0800, the Blackhawk sat down in the street with a deafening clatter, Steve and I struggled towards it through a light rain, noting that there were already people inside. A private jumped out and helped me in, and I collapsed in a seat next to a red-haired, freckle-faced young man. He was the only other civilian in the helicopter, and he stuck out his hand and grinned.
“Arnold Ryan!” he shouted over the noise. I introduced myself in the same fashion, and we shook hands. The noise was too loud to carry on a conversation, but there would be time for that at the post.
The helicopter lifted off again, and we set off. We flew for about twenty minutes, and then set down in large apartment complex to pick up another survivor. An attractive black woman hefting a Remington 700 climbed in and dazzled us with a smile. We grinned back and shook hands. She managed to introduce herself as Keisha.
Keisha was the only other pickup. After about three hours of fast, low-level flying, we were over the post. As I looked down, I noticed that the Guard had cleared, either by burning or cutting, every tree and shrub for half a mile around. The private next to me, who had helped me in, noticed me looking around and handed me a headset.
“We burned that over the period of a couple days,” he said, “There’s machine gun nests and sniper pits all over it. Mines and claymores, too. All the pits are connected by tunnels back to the base.”
“What about air defense?” I inquired. He grinned.
“There’s hidden batteries of missiles everywhere. And we’ve set up a killer radar system. They knew we were coming when we were a hundred miles away.”
The helicopter landed on a dusty flight line and we disembarked. A tall man in sergeant’s stripes greeted us. “Welcome to Sierra Base,” he said, shaking our hands formally, “I’m Sergeant Rock.”
Sergeant Rock escorted us to a nondescript building off to the side and led us inside while the pilots and ground crew stowed the helicopter in one of the large hangers. “We’ve moved all our operations underground,” he explained, “Except flight ops of course. Right in here, please.”
We walked into a large conference room, where numerous people were milling around. As we walked in, several cheered and applauded. I couldn’t help it, I did too. It was too great to see other people again. Everyone hugged everyone as introductions flew like so many bullets. We all knew each other by call sign, but never in person. Everyone exchanged survival stories and hugged some more. Finally, someone called for quiet, and a tall, gray-haired, imposing man walked to the front of the room.
“Welcome,” he said in a firm voice, “My name is Lieutenant Colonel Patstone, and it’s an honor to have you. I just need to say a few things before we get back to socializing. It’s not psychological mumbo-jumbo; this socialization will honestly help and encourage both you and us.”
He began with a lecture on everything we knew about the aliens. I’d heard all of this from Reynolds, but I still listened attentively.
Colonel Patstone then moved on. He addressed availability of necessities, the importance of checking in, how to keep yourself and others safe, and the importance of working together. He noted that while no Masters had been noted anywhere near us, “there was a first time for everything” and that it made no sense to “take reckless chances.” Finally, he drew to a close. “Oh, one more thing,” he said, “I would like to note that there are two survivors here I would like to recognize. Three, Four-, I’m sorry, Colleen and Daniel, will you stand up, please?”
A fair-haired, slender woman stood up, as did a brown-haired young man with glasses and a hard expression. “Colleen and Daniel were engaged before the Event,” Colonel Patstone said, “They survived by having the fortune of spelunking during the Event. When they emerged and had the same experience all of you did, they realized life had to begin afresh.
“So, once we had found them, they asked our chaplain to marry them.” The room erupted in applause and laughter. The young couple looked slightly embarrassed, but they beamed at us and each other. Colonel Patstone continued, “I just thought that might encourage you all. All right, please return to speaking amongst yourselves.”
We complied, and resumed conversations. The room was soon packed tight with us and off-duty soldiers, and was loud with talk and laughter.
We all remained at the post until late. It was impossible to note the passage of time in these windowless rooms, and I was startled when a Warrant Officer appeared and announced that night had fallen outside and they were prepared to fly us home. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, or even permanently,” he said, “But if you would like to return now, please come with me.”
Most of us followed him. Those who wanted to live with the Guard were already doing so. Once topside, the WO divided us into groups based on location and directed us to a helicopter. Once we took off, I noticed the Guard did things differently at night. They flew even lower and faster, and with their lights off. Men were always at the door guns, and the pilots seemed edgy. Apparently the aliens were more active at night, and despite the fact that none had been seen in the area, they were taking no chances.
It was quite early in the morning when they dropped me off, and I offered Steve and Arnold a place to stay the night. They each accepted, and the Guardsmen flew home. I unlocked my triple-locked steel door and let us in. Arnold whistled when he saw the Corvette. “Hey, how much did that cost?” he joked tiredly, “I bet – holy cow!”
He jumped when he walked in and saw the guns everywhere. “These are just the ones you can see,” I grinned, “There’s more everywhere.” Arnold chuckled as he glanced around.
“What’s this?” he asked as he dropped his bag to the floor, gesturing towards a wide-screen TV full of different images.
“Security system,” I explained, “It’s security cameras and game cameras all over this property. Although by the looks of it, nothing’s been through here while I was gone except for deer.”
“Pretty nice, man. Like a fortress in here.”
“Yeah. Where you living?”
“At a Sam’s Club in a big shopping center about . . . oh, probably about an hour from here. I’m an electrical engineer by trade, and I rigged the whole place up to run off of solar panels all over the roof, so the whole shopping center has power. I’m doing okay for myself, it’s just not very secure.”
I showed Arnold and Steve where they could sleep, and then crashed myself. It had been an exhausting day.