Authors: David C. Waldron
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Thrillers, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Technothrillers, #Science Fiction, #Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Literature & Fiction
David C. Waldron
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by David C. Waldron.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Cover art by David C. Waldron and Erin Lark Designs
Edited by Dancing Out Loud Multimedia
First printing, July 2013
To my readers,
May 21, 2013 - Outside Promised Land Army Base, Natchez Trace State Park, Tennessee
A weary group of refugees approached camp, huddled in the backs of a number of canvas-topped troop carriers with the sides rolled up. Their preliminary “meet and greet” had gone well, and they were grateful not to be travelling on foot anymore. They’d survived a long cold winter and, though slightly warmer, an even more brutal spring.
The residents of Promised Land and Redemption had weathered the bitter winter and late spring by circling the wagons, so to speak, and sheltering in place. Even in the dead of winter there’d been no rest with a never-ending list of chores and outdoor labor to get done. The reality of their new situation had been forcefully brought home to civilians and military personnel alike. Previously used to travelling from heated homes to heated offices in heated cars, they soon learned that any warmth at all meant splitting a stack of firewood–every couple of days, and that was just the beginning of what needed to be done in a day.
The base, along with all of its personnel, was on high alert. Through their contacts with the other military bases and installations, Major Mallory Jensen knew that Colonel Olsen wasn’t resting and, while they had been relatively secure in their position up until now, they all knew that could change with literally no warning. Mallory and her command staff kept everyone on their toes with random raid drills and constant upgrades to the base and town fortifications.
Several layers of fences–topped with concertina and barbed wire–surrounded the base, while soldiers were constantly on patrol. Foxholes had been dug all along the perimeter and reinforced bunkers and gun pits dotted the landscape.
It never failed, though, that when life on base or in Redemption seemed most difficult, when no one felt like they would ever be warm or dry or comfortable again, a group of refugees showed up. They served as a stark reminder that life could be much, much worse.
Today’s incoming refugees had lost roughly half of their original group over the past three weeks. They’d abandoned their collapsing neighborhood on the outskirts of Clinton, Kentucky. Staying put really hadn’t been an option any longer, but leaving had opened them up to a whole new set of dangers.
There had been a couple of skirmishes with organized, roving bands. They’d lost the few supplies they’d left with, but worse, they’d lost people. Friends, neighbors, family members…children. It turns out there isn’t all that much food just sitting on the side of the road, either, but you’d be surprised what you’ll eat when you’re starving; really, truly starving.
Now, after trudging for almost ninety miles, they were just grateful for the hope of something resembling normal. While everyone was too exhausted to be more than vaguely curious, they still looked around as the trucks made their way into Promised Land over the bumpy dirt road.
The trucks passed through an outer and an inner perimeter, both fences topped with more concertina wire, before approaching what looked like a tent city. In fact, it looked a lot like the 4077th on the old M*A*S*H TV show. There were large tents for communal gatherings and small tents for individual functions. People were walking around carrying firewood, which made sense, and what looked to be electronic equipment, which didn’t.
They drove by a crew that was laying down a wooden floor for a tent, another crew erecting a medium-sized tent, and a third crew that was putting wooden sides on yet another tent. It looked like a mixture of military and civilians working together, side-by-side, which was a relief to the group in the trucks. They hadn’t known what to expect, but had at least hoped it wouldn’t be some kind of military dictatorship they were walking into.
They heard the sound of running water from a corrugated metal hut with a sign that read “showers”, they heard children laughing and singing a rhyming song. They could smell lunch cooking as they drove by the mess hall, and there was the brief cackle and squawk of chickens from a large pen right behind it.
A half-a-dozen people were doing laundry in a row of metal tubs lined up by a metal faucet. It looked to be evenly divided between men and women. Some were soaping, pounding, and wringing; and some were hanging the wet laundry up to air-dry on lines stretched between poles.
At the crackle of gunfire, a hundred horrified refugees ducked in unison. Some threw themselves over children or spouses while some cried out. It turned out that they were passing the practice range. It would probably be many months, if not years, before the trauma they had lived through eased enough for that sound to mean nothing. Eventually, the trucks came to a stop and the drivers came around and opened the tailgates, lifting their hands to help their passengers down. “Welcome to Promised Land,” they said to each new arrival, as they set foot on the ground. “Welcome to Promised Land.”
As the trucks carrying the new group into camp came to a stop, Sergeant Ty Novak, Promised Land’s doctor, strained to catch a first glimpse of the group he would be examining today. At first, no one moved at all, and then the drivers of the trucks got out and dropped the tailgates. The influx of refugees had all but dried up over the past few months, but when the occasional group showed up they were usually a little more eager to get out and look at their new surroundings.
Ty wondered why nobody seemed in a hurry to get off. That is, until he saw the first few people; and what he saw made his heart ache.
He’d been an Army Medic for ten years, and joined Doctors without Borders almost as soon as he’d finished his residency. He’d served in the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with Doctors in Sudan, Kenya, and Niger, and it was still a shock to see anyone–much less Americans here at home–in such bad shape.
He’d grown used to seeing pretty much all men with beards, but scissor-trimmed and clean-cut. The men getting off the trucks looked like they hadn’t had access to scissors in at least six months. Everyone’s hair was long and unkempt. They looked like they had at least tried to rinse off when they had a chance, but he also knew they had come almost a hundred miles, and the first order of business when you find water when walking that far is to
As a group, they were emaciated, and showed profound muscle wasting. The women looked to have lost
extra body fat; they were not only flat-chested, but had no butts, either. There wasn’t a single man with a gut on him. He was pretty sure he could also see some untreated ballistic trauma and crush injuries in the growing crowd on the ground. He mentally added gangrene to his growing list of concerns.
From where Ty was watching, though, one thing stood out more than anything else; the children. The children brought home just how long this whole ordeal had been going on. He could see, at their thin ankles and wrists, inches of bare skin where they had long outgrown the pants and long-sleeve shirts they were wearing. Replacement clothing was a distant dream, and these children had been living a waking nightmare. But, like children the world over, they continued to grow…and grow. Ty wondered if he was about to diagnose his first case of rickets, scurvy, or possibly even goiter, since the power had gone out.
Sergeant Patterson had been the one to perform the “meet and greet”, and had called ahead to have food ready. The exam waiting area had been turned into an impromptu mess hall, and they were serving milk, cornbread, rice, and beans.
Joel was there to greet the group, and he took a seat on an empty table at the front of the tent. It helped make him a little less intimidating, but at the same time, everyone could still see him.
“Everyone,” Joel said, “my name is Joel Taylor. I’m the Mayor of Promised Land, which is this camp, and of Redemption, which is the town about eight miles southeast of here.”
“I just want you to know that there is more where this came from,” Joel said, gesturing to the food they were wolfing down. “We aren’t being stingy, I promise, but we know you’ve been through a rough patch and we didn’t want to throw too much at you too quickly.”
“I also want to welcome you,” Joel said, “and let you know how we have things set up. First of all, we do have power, but it’s limited. We don’t run it everywhere, and it isn’t running all the time. We use it mostly for the infrastructure pieces; like water purification, communications, and defense–if we need it. That sort of thing.”
Joel looked around and saw that he had people’s attention, but they were eating while they were listening. “Second, is water. We have a fairly good supply through surface water, but we’re pretty strict about anything that could pollute the groundwater. It’s just common sense.”
“Lastly,” Joel said, “are the work details. We have agreements worked out with a number of farmers and ranchers in the area that need additional labor. We all benefit by helping out both here and there. The milk you’re drinking right now came from the dairy; the corn for the cornbread came from one of the farmers.”
“A little bit later we’ll have folks get together with each of you,” Joel continued, “to figure out where you’d be best suited to help out. It won’t be right away though. You’ve had a rough go and need some time to rest and recover. Again, welcome to Promised Land.”
Several in the crowd murmured thanks, many nodded, and it was obvious that they really were grateful. It was just as obvious they were in shock; the haunted eyes, the way that some looked over their shoulders almost constantly.
Joel noticed one father telling his teenage son to slow down and not to gulp his food and couldn’t help but smile.
“What’s your name, son,” Joel asked.
“Matthew,” the boy said, slightly embarrassed now that he’d obviously drawn attention to himself.
“Well, Matthew,” Joel said. “I’m serious about there being more–right now, even–and I can understand your being hungry. I have a seventeen-year-old son myself. Your dad is right, though. Give it a few minutes and see how your stomach feels before you go back for some more, and do yourself a favor; don’t get any more milk. Drink water until dinner. Trust me. If you’re still hungry in ten minutes and your stomach doesn’t hurt, by all means, please go back for seconds.”
Matthew looked at his Dad, and then back at Joel.
“It’s really ok,” Joel told both Matthew and his Dad.
“Thank you,” Matthew’s Dad said, and held out his hand. “Paul. Paul Sewell.”
“Good to meet you, Paul,” Joel said, and shook both of their hands. “You too, Matthew, and I think you’d like my son, Josh.”
Ty had noticed this next girl fairly early on. Her mother had been comforting her while they ate, cradling her on her lap. Ty had also noticed a moist, rattling cough–which could be anything—and that her cheeks looked flushed, even from a distance. Her name was April, and her mother was with her for the exam.
“When did your cough start,” Ty asked April. He always tried to get the answer from the kids first; their answers tended to be more reliably honest. If it seemed a little
off-the-wall, he would get clarification from the parent, but he’d found that parents had a tendency to sugar-coat things if they had the chance.
“A couple of days ago,” April said.
Ty nodded. “A couple two, or a couple three,” he asked as he got the thermometer ready.
April made a thinking face and closed her eyes, which seemed too big in her gaunt face. “Three, I think,” she said. “Sometimes I get allergies and they make my nose run, and I get a cough. This isn’t,” April started to shake her head and then held still as Ty put the thermometer in her ear, “this isn’t the same, though.”
Ty nodded as he read the thermometer after it beeped. “Well, you have a little bit of a fever,” he said, “but you aren’t the only one. It’s not very high, and once I look in your nose and ears and listen to your lungs, I think I can guess why.”
“Mmhmm,” Ty said, in that infuriating tone that only doctors have, “mmmhmmm. Now, I need you to take a couple of deep breaths and try not to cough when you let them out, ok?”
After several breaths, Ty took the stethoscope out of his ears and looked at both April and Mom. “Ok,” he said. “It looks like you have a little bit of an upper-respiratory infection. Nothing serious, though, and we do have some antibiotics in camp. We should be able to get it cleared right up.”