Wednesday, February 16, 2011

For The Greater Good 5


CHAPTER FIVE



    “It should ready in just a few more minutes.” Rick said as they both prepared another meal.

    They were using flashlight power as the candles had burned out the day before. Rick thought that if he had an empty can he could take the unburned wax and make another candle. The LED flashlights were very efficient, lasting almost four times longer than a regular flashlight; however they only had enough batteries to last another week or so. He had a couple of other lights, but the longest lasting were the ones which used the AA batteries.

    The small pack stove gave off plenty heat and light, comforting them like a warm fireplace on a cold night. The water boiled and was then poured into the freeze-dried food container, they allowed it to sit for a while, working its magic on the packaged lasagna.  

    “Is that the last of the freeze-dried food?” Melissa asked, knowing full well it was.

    “Yes…that’s it.” Rick said. There was only one meal left after this, a chicken and rice MRE. The last meal was set off by itself; the pair couldn’t help but to focus on their final meal nervously. “What day are we on?” Rick asked, he knew but wanted to talk.

    “Day ten, counting the three we were asleep.” She answered, looking up at the calendar scratched on the wall. “Would you like to play a game of checkers after we eat?”

    “You bet,” Rick said enthusiastically. The pair had to make do with what they could for entertainment. They played cards, every conceivable game they knew, which amounted to solitaire and rummy. The checkers were Melissa’s idea. Using some spent brass cartridges that Rick had saved from his shooting trip with Steve, they drew a checker board on the dirty floor and played for hours.

    “Rick…” she asked

    “I’ll be alright,” He knew she was anxious about him leaving the shelter to find food, that prospect scared her more than starving. “I promise.” He said, smiling at her.

    Smiling nervously back, she nodded. The fears stormed through her mind again, what if he got hurt and couldn’t come back? How would she know?

    They ate silently together in the cool blue light of the flashlight strung up on the water pipe, hanging like a cheap chandelier. After playing checkers they napped. It was their routine now; eat, play and nap. Rick had vacuum sealed some spare clothes, a set of black lightweight poly undergarments, two pairs of boxer shorts, two t-shirts and two pairs of wool socks. Melissa wore the black poly long sleeved top and his red boxer shorts, they were too large by a half-dozen sizes. They shared almost everything, food, clothes and their past lives...but not the toothbrush that Rick had in the pack. 

    Rick’s mental alarm clock went off in his head. Sitting up he knew that today was the day to leave and see exactly what was outside the shelter. He dreaded this day, and yet he in a perverse way looked forward to it. Melissa awakened, she sat up and turned on the flashlight.

    Without a word spoken, Rick began to dress. Melissa helped him tape his wrists and ankles with the sticky green duct tape. Taking a well-worn and unwashed t-shirt he wrapped it around his face as a mask, hoping it would prevent breathing in any of the fallout particles. The finishing layer was dark blue rain gear, pants and top. Putting on a new pair of leather work gloves, Melissa taped his wrists and ankles again. A tiny headband with an attached LED light went around his forehead and the rain gear’s hood covered everything except a small opening to breathe and see. This was something that they had talked about, many times, so actually doing it brought no surprises.

    Rick peeled the duct tape from along the doors edges. Deciding to only take the small axe, he felt that there was no need for a pistol. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped through.

    “Be careful,” Melissa said, swiftly closing the door behind him.

    The culvert was utterly dark, illuminated only by the round beam of the headlamp. It was difficult for Rick to move and especially to turn his head; he was forced to turn his entire body instead. Looking to his right and crouch-walking over to the far entrance, he saw the reason for the darkness; the entire opening was covered with debris. Stacks of lumber mixed with roofing shingles and siding intertwined creating a thorough rat’s nest of detritus. Turning back, he went to the near opening and stopped dead in his tracks. Setting the axe down he stared at the opening, his mouth hanging open at a wall which wholly covered the opening. There were some debris on the ground, bricks and pieces of aluminum siding, however the wall was perfectly pressed against the opening.

    Reaching out to the wall, Rick pushed against it…solid. Shaking his head in amazement he opened and lowered the rain hood and sat down, trying to figure out the how and why of it all.

    Rick thought that maybe one of the homes had been blown completely off its foundation and slammed against the opening, which was the only logical explanation. Looking around at the edges and seeing gaps with darkness in the spaces behind, led him to think that there was a lot of debris piled against the wall. He had seen photographs of damage and strange occurrences done by tornadoes, but this?

    Shaking his head and going back to their shelter door, he knocked loudly. “Pizza delivery!”

    Melissa opened the door. “You’re back already?” She smiled after seeing him alright, “Where’s my pizza?”

    “Come out here, I want you to see this. You won’t need a mask right now.”

    Melissa gingerly stepped over the doorway threshold and looked at the wall. No words were spoken, just confusion at the strangeness of it all.

    “It’s solid.” he said pushing against the wall, “I’m going to start chopping through it.” Getting on his knees and choking up on the sharp axe, Rick began to chop through the siding. Stopping after a few strokes, he asked, “Hey do me a favor would you?”

    Melissa nodded.

    “Back in one of the side pockets of my pack is a bandanna, it’s red, you can’t miss it, and in the first aid pack is a large bandage…it’s labeled ABD. Would you get those for me? I can’t stand the smell of this shirt any longer,” he said taking the t-shirt off and tossing it aside.

    Melissa left and Rick waited, shining the headlamp all over the structure, trying to figure out where best to cut through. Coming back with the things Rick asked for, he made a lighter facemask, absent the odor. Hacking through the siding, and peeling pieces off as he went, he went through the Tyvek vapor barrier and the plywood sheeting. Behind the plywood, the pink insulation peeled off easily, and then he busted through the interior sheetrock. Even though Rick had lost a lot of weight in the ten days of being sheltered up, he still wasn’t able to fit through the wood studs barring his way.

    “Back on the floor is a black round nylon pouch, inside is that hand-held chain-saw cutter you saw me use…do you remember?”

    “I know where it is.”

    Rick looked inside the dark and destroyed structure, wiping the sweat off his face. He tried to see if there was anything within arms reach they could use…nothing. Looking through the main opening straight ahead held no promise. There was an opening to the right and to the left…smaller than the gap between the studs.
   
    Melissa brought back the hand held chain saw and Rick started to cut through the studs’ top and then the bottom. The structure shifted decidedly with the support taken out.

   Rick started to crawl into the opening on the right, headlamp shining through flittering dust. “I can’t get into here…it’s too tight for me.” He backed out.

    “Maybe I can go through.” Melissa volunteered.

    Rick took off the rain gear and his mask, helping her put them on, and taping her wrists and ankles. Placing the headlamp on her, he went back into the shelter and picked up the light attached to his now worthless keychain.

    Melissa got on hands and knees, the man sized work gloves looked about as effective as boxing mitts. “Please be careful.” It was his turn to worry as she scooted out of sight to the right.

    Moments later she crawled out feet first and looked at him. “Nothing in there except this.” She held up a couple of torn Readers Digest magazines and handing them to him.

    Slapping the dust off of the magazines he set them aside as she changed direction to the left. “I see something…I found some cans….there’s some other stuff too.” From within the darkened space her voice came out muffled. “If it’s broken, can we use it?”

    “Melissa…what did you find?”

    “I found some Windex…and a dented pot…” she was silent a few minutes “…hey I think we’ve hit the jack-pot! I found some food and need something to put it in.” Melissa said excitedly.

    “Hold on, I’ll be back.” Rick went back into the room and emptied one of the almost empty water bags into one of the two that they hadn’t used. Bringing the bag back, he crawled into the hole as far as his body would allow and held it out for her. The tiny hand with the large tan leather glove reached out, taking the bag.

    Moments seemed like hours before her hand reappeared, holding the end of the black bag. Trying his best not tear the bag, Rick lifted it and heard the cans banging against one another. Backing out with their newfound treasures in tow, he dumped them out on the ground. A quick look brought a smile to his face. Lying at his feet were dirty, dusty and dented cans of corn, tuna, green beans, baked beans and fruit cocktail. The large slightly dented stainless steel cook pot held a bottle of Windex and two unopened rolls of paper towels. He handed the bag back to her and waited wordlessly until it returned again filled with unopened food treasures. 

    “Can we use olive oil?” she asked.

    “You bet.”

    The bag again reappeared, much heavier this time. Rick backed out, bag in tow, now taking the cans and plastic containers out one at a time. The bottom of the bag held a one-gallon jug of olive oil.       

    “Rick…I need you,” her muffled voice cried.

    Crawling into the hole on his belly further than he had prior, he saw the lugged soles of her boots and crawled over. “Anything wrong?”

    The light from the headlamp hit him in the eyes. “I found some bottled water and I can’t lift it.”

    “Ok, you come out and I’ll try.” Rick backed out, allowing Melissa to follow him.

    Moving closer to the edge of the cubbyhole Melissa screamed, “OW! Ouch…I’m stuck!”

    Rick went back in and saw she had backed into a shard of wood, impaling herself. “Melissa, you have to go forward, you’re stuck on some wood.” He helped her, gently moving her forward and off of the pointed slice of jagged wood. .

    She whimpered as the pain shot through her body. “That really hurts.” Once off, she scampered back out and stood up, holding her side.

    Rick went back inside the tight hole, wiggling and, holding the small keychain light in his mouth. He crawled by pulling his body inwards with his hands to where Melissa said there was water. There they were; large clear blue plastic heavy-duty water bottles. “Oh wow…got em!” He exclaimed with his mouth full of flashlight, lifting the two and a half gallon bottles out of their place. He found four, taking two. There was also more food that could be dug out later. The short trip back was painfully slow as sweat dripped down his face.

    They’d spent enough time outside the shelter; it was time to head back. Melissa was already inside the room. Rick went in and helped her off with the rain gear, stepping back outside, shaking off the dust of the rain gear and then dusting himself off. Piles of canned goods lay against the outside wall; Rick picked up a can and then opened a roll of paper towels and sprayed the can with Windex, cleaning off any possible radioactive particles that might have clung to it. Not really caring about the contents, he cleaned off a small arm load and brought them inside.

    Taking a deep, cleansing breath he looked Melissa. “Wow…this is great!” He handed her a can of tuna, and dug through a side pocket of the pack for the tiny military P-38 can opener.

    “Rick, do you think that since we have some extra water, maybe we could clean up?”

    He had a bar of soap with a washcloth along with a small towel. They had cleaned themselves previously, trying to spare as much water as possible, however a thorough bath was definitely in order. “Absolutely…I’ll build a fire and clean out that pot so we can have some hot water…sound good?”

    Nodding her head yes, she said, “It sounds wonderful.” Melissa figured out how to use the can opener, and began working on the tuna.

    “Don’t take the lid completely off…I think I can make a lamp with it.” Outside he cleaned off the pot and a few more cans of food, bringing them back inside. Looking around on the outside ground he picked up a few bricks and made a semi-circle fire pit inside. The small hand held chain saw was an excellent tool to make six to eight inch blocks of wood, perfect for their new fireplace. Splitting a few and making shavings with the axe, which now needed sharpening; he started a fire and placed the pot filled with water on top.

    Melissa came over and held out a fork full of tuna, he opened his mouth accepting the flavorful morsel. “Ummm, that’s good.” They shared the can and opened another, sharing both to the end.

    The flames from their fire flicked around the bottom of the pot, comforting sizzling noises and the smell of wood smoke filled the tiny room. As the flames were fed and coals created, the temperature inside rose. Rick had a dual-purpose small tarp which he opened and spread on the floor. Melissa stood; her back to him and stripped off her all of her clothes. She had done this before and asked Rick to turn his head, which he did. This time was different as she looked back at him, catching a glimpse of his eyes on her body, smiling.

    In the glow of the fire, Rick saw the bleeding wound where she was stabbed earlier. “You’ve got a nasty puncture wound…” he said as he touched the area, “Better lay down so I can clean it.” She did. Opening the first aid kit he found the betadine solution and bandages. Shining the flashlight on the wound, he cleaned off the area and noticed a sliver of wood imbedded just below the skin. Another pouch held his surgical tools, scalpel, tweezers and sutures.

    “Do you know what are you doing?” She asked nervously, looking up at him.

    “Yeah…I was a medic in the military…eons ago,” He said, smiling.

    “Oh…before you start. I found something and wanted to surprise you.” Postponing the first aid, Melissa jumped up and went over to the water pipe, picking up a bottle of wine off the floor. Holding it up she said, “I found two bottles...I suppose Mr. Survival Man, you have a corkscrew in your pack?” she said sarcastically.

    Rick laughed. “Smart ass…no I can’t help you with a corkscrew. However…” he reached over and finding the leather sheathed multi-tool, “…maybe you can find something in here to use.”

    Melissa opened the multi-tool and decided to use a screwdriver blade to push the cork inside the bottle. Taking a swig of the white wine, she handed the bottle over. The wine tasted heavenly.

    Melissa lay down as Rick adjusted his glasses and began to make minute slices on her skin after cleaning the area with the brown betadyne antiseptic. The splinter came out easily and painlessly. Rick dressed the wound and gave her a pat, “All finished…” Looking at her nude body, he traced his hand over a series of Chinese characters tattooed above her perfectly formed bottom, “…what do these mean?”

    “My tattoo…?” Melissa turned on her side, looking up at him “It’s Chinese…it means ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry, for Tomorrow You May Die.’”

    “Get out of here…really?”

    “Yup…appropriate isn’t it?”

    Rick smiled and shook his head. Melissa lay back on her stomach as Rick started to massage her back, shoulders and neck.

    “Rick Martin you’re a jerk…” she said softly lifting her hair, exposing a braided dark green twine necklace. “…We’ve been here for almost two weeks and this is the first time you’ve given me a back rub.”

    Rick chuckled, “Are you complaining? Besides I didn’t want you to think I was a letch or anything.”

    “Oh man, that feels good…no complaints from me.” She leaned over slightly, not wanting to break up the massage. “Would you do me a favor?”

    “Sure…what is it?”

    “I want you to cut my hair.”

    “Why?”

    “Remember what you were saying about when we leave? I don’t want to ‘stand out’.”

    “Yeah I’ll cut your hair…can’t say how good of a job I’ll do…do you want me to wait until after you wash it?”

    “Yeah…” Sitting up, she put her arms around Rick’s neck and kissed him gently on the lips. “Take this off.” She helped him with his shirt, then his remaining clothes. The heat in the room felt like a sauna as sweat dripped from both bodies.

    The pot of water was steaming. Melissa used one of the cooking pots to dip some water and wet her hair, washing it with the bar soap. Rick soaped the washcloth and washed her back as she rinsed her hair. “My legs are hairy, aren’t they?”

    Not knowing whether to say yes or no, as it could be one of those questions women ask where there never is a correct answer, he said nothing, rinsing and wiping her back clean.

    Rick’s turn. Washing his short graying hair with the very hot water felt wonderful. Melissa did the return favor and washed his back and legs. Finishing, they washed their fronts, standing together in the pooling water on the tarp.

    Both were still wet and they sat on the tarp, facing one another, legs crossed. Rick, using a ladies pink disposable razor, lathered up with the bar soap and started shaving by feel.

    “Can I do that?” Melissa asked.

    Rick hesitated and then handed her the razor. “Sure.”

    Melissa took her time and tried not to cut him. Noticeably nervous, Rick let her have her way. “Did your wife ever do this?”

    “Shave me? No…she never did.”

    “Too bad, it’s kind of fun.”

    Melissa finished and wiped him off with the damp hand towel. “My turn…” she said as she extended her shapely legs over Ricks’ thighs “…Did you ever shave your wife’s legs?”

    “Um…no.”

    Rubbing the hot washcloth over her bristled legs and lathering them, she handed the razor to Rick. “Go ahead.”

    Starting at her ankle and running the disposable razor up to her knee, Rick tried not to be nervous. The combination of being nude with Melissa and sitting intimately close to her, and then trying to do something other than stare at her body, was too much.

    Melissa took the razor “Here I’ll finish that, you did a good job...but you’ll need more practice.” She said seductively smiling. A few strokes later, she was finished and then wiped her legs, leaving them in place across his thighs. Leaning over to him, they both kissed, gently at first and then their passion exploded, matching the heat of their bodies and the room. Rick lifted her onto his lap, and the two then became one.

    In the dim light of the orange coals, they held each other tightly, not wanting the moment to end. He tried to fight off sleep, induced from the endorphin fueled orgasm as she gazed at his face deep in thought.

    “So, where do we go from here?” she spoke softly.

    Rick opened his eyes “Well, I guess we go to my house and…”

    “That’s not what I meant…” She sat up, “What I mean is you and I, what do we do now.”

    Rick understood and he put his arm around her, drawing her back down to him. “Right now I can’t think of anything outside…I can’t think of anything other that us…when we first got stuck together in here, I thought that maybe after this was over, that you’d go your separate way and I’d go mine.” He paused as Melissa snuggled with him. “Now, I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”

    “You mean that?”

    He kissed her, his lips finding the lip ring. “Yes, I certainly do.”

    Melissa reached inside her lip and unscrewed the lip ring, removing it, and then her nose ring, tossing them aside. “Funny isn’t it? Mr. Survival Neanderthal Man, and the Hippie chick,” she said smiling.

    “I’ve found a new appreciation for Hippies.” They laughed and turned their attention back towards their newfound love for each other. Rick kissed her neck, savoring her skin and smell…Melissa gently moved his head down towards her stomach.


* * * * *


    The dirty gray skies over Ogden Utah extended up to 12,000 feet, as the Combat Sent aircraft left Hill Air Force Base, climbing over the Great Salt Lake in a circular pattern. Leveling out at 20,000 feet, Colonel Walters asked the pilot to put it on autopilot; he wanted to talk with everyone.

   “Listen up everyone…I know these last two weeks have been hell on earth for everybody,” pausing as he made eye contact with all, “We have this mission and then whoever wants to stay on, can…I won’t hold anyone back if you want to leave.”

    No one said anything, just nods of agreement that they heard and understood the offer.

   “We have all heard rumors about the damage done here in the States, so we are being asked to fly around the country to see what is really going on and pass that information along. The majority of our satellites are down, so we are the only ones that can give a decent assessment.”

    Again everyone nodded and voiced acceptance.

    “Here is what I want. Comms…you are to try every band, let’s see who is on the air and who isn’t.” He looked back towards the dozen computer operators, “I want all of you to leave no stone unturned. I want to know everything you find…” Turning to the pilot and copilot, he said, “Mike; let’s start with Omaha, then we’ll head to Seattle and then down the west coast, ok?”

    The aircraft turned east towards Offutt AFB as the crew checked their ‘beyond state of the art’ multi-million dollars stations.

    Approaching Offutt, the Colonel looked back at his Communications Officer. “Anything?” 

    Comms shook his head no.

    The operators searched everything they could, cell phone transmissions, any electrical device being used then the digital display showed a visual crystal clear image of Offutt. The blast left a large dirty circular hole, erasing any life or structure within five miles. The Colonel said nothing, the devastation was unimaginable. The images shifted to the flight line, where the large hangars which housed the electronics surveillance and communications aircraft were caved in, the aircraft themselves just burned hulks.

    “Hey Washington, can you bring up my address…17 Fuselage Way,” someone called out from behind.

    Sergeant Washington typed in the address and the enhanced image moved, coordinated with an internal map to the address. “I’ve got nothing on visual….” Looking at the spot where there used to be on-base housing, he asked another operator, “Anything on IR?”

    The Officer who worked the Infra Red system was also coordinated to Washington’s screen. “Nothing.” The IR system would give a yellow-red color image of anything giving off heat.

    Addresses were called out from everyone else, with the same results, dashing all hopes that their loved ones and roommates might have survived. Everyone was quiet as the realization hit them.

    Colonel Walters spoke. “Let’s head to Seattle, Mike.” The aircraft turned west and flew for over an hour with not a word spoken, no jokes or arguments, just silence.

    The crew accepted their fate and soon got back to work, calling out towns and individuals that were alive, small groups of yellow-red images. Every group they spotted gave hope that maybe life would go on. “Approaching Seattle, Sir.” someone called out.

    Flying over Mt. Rainer there was smoke venting near the top of the huge, once dormant, volcano. Avoiding the dirty brown ash, the four engine aircraft detoured north and then back to the west.

    Scanning the city, it was simple to see the huge black gray crater left by the nuclear weapon in the city’s center, and another in Naval Submarine Base Bangor. Sgt Washington moved the images from the city to the nearby docks.

    “Sir, look at this,” Washington spoke, Colonel Walters walked over and stood behind the NCO. “This is pretty strange…look at the crater and blast area. The blast area should stop at about five miles, right?”

    The Colonel agreed; his eyes focused on what Washington was showing him.

    “So…why is the damage so severe everywhere? Look at all the debris, there is nothing standing anywhere.”

    Thinking for a moment, he remembered, “Earthquake? Tsunami?” The Colonel offered, then asked. “Can someone bring me up to speed on the geography of this area?”

    A female voice spoke from the front, “Sir, this area is known for large earthquakes. Off of the coast is the Juan De Fuca Plate. This plate moves in and butts up against the North American plate. Where they meet, the Juan De Fuca Plate moves under the North American plate, this subduction zone is where the big quakes occur,” she paused as the Colonel listened intently, “If those nukes rattled this area, then it’s possible that it let go…I can’t imagine what this quake would be on the Richter scale, but I know from living in this area years ago that an eight or even higher is possible…and there would certainly be a Tsunami.”

    Colonel Walters let out an audible breath. “EMP, nukes and earthquakes…are we ever going to catch a break?” He said to no one in particular. “Ok, is the Port usable?”

    “No Sir, from what I can tell, it’s completely blocked off with sunken container ships. Also the cranes that load those ships are destroyed.”

    “Any word from the Submarine Base or Whidbey Island?”

    Comms said, “No Sir, the Sub Base is not on the air and the Naval Air Station at Whidbey Island isn’t responding either.”

    “OK, Mike, let’s head down the coast.”

    The aircraft turned south along the pacific coast, monitoring everything. Approaching the border with Oregon, Sgt. Washington spoke. “Sir, it looks like the bridge that crosses the Columbia River is down.” The downed bridge would block any large ship from entering or leaving Portland.

    “Mike, take us inland towards Portland,” Colonel Walters said, the aircraft now heading east the sixty or so miles to Oregon’s largest city. The aircraft circled Portland and the surrounding area.

    “Same story here, Sir…although no nukes…plenty of damage from the earthquakes.” A voice spoke from the middle of the craft.

    “Mike, lets head down to San Francisco.”

    “Along the coast?” Major Miller asked.

    “Yeah, let’s do that,” Bill Walters said, stunned at what they were finding.

    Approaching the coastline, one of the officers called out, “Sir I am receiving a Ultra High Frequency communication, it’s the aircraft carrier, Ronald Reagan.”

    The Colonel took over the communication. “Ronald Reagan, this is Air Force Raven One, do you copy? Over.”

    “Raven One, we copy,” the unidentified voice said through a hissing, static filled transmission.

    “This is Colonel Bill Walters, who am I speaking with?”

    “Hold on Sir,” The line went quiet as it was handed off. “This is Admiral Len Walls.”

    “Hello, Sir. We are an Air Force Intelligence gathering aircraft assessing damage for Raven Rock. What is your situation Sir? Wait, before you answer that, do you have encryption capability?”

    “Roger, hold on.” The line went silent for a moment, then a click and a beep indicated the transmission was now encrypted. “Right now we are coming out of a Typhoon, seas are pretty rough, but we’ll make it alright. We’ve asked China for permission to take refuge, but they refused due to port damage from the storms and the Tsunamis.”

    “Understand Sir.”

    “Colonel Walters, what the situation there?” He asked, concerned

    “We were hit hard Sir, and now we are seeing the results of the nukes, earthquakes and Tsunamis on the west coast.”

    “Damn, how is San Diego?”

    “Don’t know Sir, we are heading towards San Francisco. Portland and Seattle are basically leveled.”

    “We were given orders from Raven Rock to head back to the States and into port; San Diego is our home port.” There was concern in his voice. “We’re going to need a re-supply in the very near future. When you speak with Raven Rock, I’d appreciate it if you would pass that along.”

    Colonel Walters nodded. “Admiral, is there anything else that I should pass along?”

    “Since you’re gathering information, the weather patterns here are pretty strange. It’s early for the Typhoon season to ‘officially’ begin, but China has been hit with one storm after another.”

    “Do you think it could have anything to do with the fallout?”

    “My weather guys say no, our head Meteorologist said that China must’ve pissed off the Big Man Upstairs. I can tell you this Walters, I’m from Iowa and I don’t see how they’ll get crops in this year if these storms continue.”

    “Roger that Sir. I’ll pass that along as well.”

    “Colonel, we aren’t having any success in contacting San Diego. I know they were hit with a nuke, but I’m hoping we can dock there and help out in some way.”

    “I’ll let you know what condition San Diego is in Sir. Admiral, you take care.” Colonel Walters closed the connection and made notes on a yellow legal pad.

    Major Miller, spoke through the intercom. “Sir, we are approaching San Francisco, we should contact the tanker for refueling in the next few hours.”

    “Thanks Mike, go ahead and make the contact.”

    “San Francisco dead ahead,” Sgt Washington called out.

    The Colonel stood behind the Sgt’s screen viewing a similar pattern of destruction with one major difference. The entire west side of San Francisco was under water. “Lieutenant Barnes, it seems that you know geography fairly well, can you explain this.”

    “Yes Sir, the fault here is different than what we saw in Seattle. Here we have a ‘strike slip fault’, meaning that the fault doesn’t go under one another like Seattle, but moves side by side, striking and slipping. It also seems this fault dropped on the western edge as it moved.”

    “The Golden Gate Bridge is down Sir, same with the Bay bridges,” Washington added, “looks like there is still a lot of fire…it’s a smoky mess down there.”

    “How is the Port?”

    Sgt Washington looked back at the Colonel and shook his head no. “With the Golden Gate Bridge down and the Bay Bridge down, it will be hard to get anything through. The overall damage to the Port is substantial, just like the others, Sir.”

    “Ok, I’ve seen enough, let’s head to Los Angeles.” There was only so much destruction that they could see at one time, even though everyone on board were professionals, the shock of it all was surreal and numbing.

    “Colonel, the tanker will meet us over Nevada, we have enough fuel to finish this coast run,” the pilot said

    Moving down the coast, it was apparent the fault cleaved California. The fault line was as clean as a surgeon’s slice. Lieutenant Barnes spoke, “Sir, I’m running a program overlaying the images we’re getting now with the images stored in the computer. It looks like the fault moved twenty to sixty feet and dropped from four to twelve feet.”

    “So, the folks who said that ‘California would drop into the ocean?’”

    “They were correct Sir,” Lt Barnes said solemnly.

    Approaching Los Angeles on any given day would bring you into a dirty brown layer of car exhaust hovering over the city. The city was still covered, only instead of dirty brown it was a murky blackish gray from the fires of homes and the nearby oil refineries which recently burned themselves out. The nuclear bomb had been detonated close to the Port, wiping out everything in the industrial area.

    “Sir, I have radio contact with a Marine Corps Harrier from China Lake.” Comm stated.

    “Patch me through…Who am I speaking with?” Colonel Walters asked.

    “Captain Mark O’Donnell, Sir. Our home base is 29 Palms; however there are six of us here at China Lake.”

    “Sir, the Harrier is approaching off our starboard side.” Major Miller said.

    Within a few minutes the gray camouflaged ground attack Harrier Jump-Jet was flying alongside the Boeing Combat Sent aircraft.

    “Captain, what can you tell us about your situation.” Colonel Walters had his notepad out.

    “Well Sir, when the nukes went off, our flight was over at the Tonopah Range doing air-to-ground exercises. We saw the flash from the air burst as well as the nukes that took out Nellis Air Force Base and Las Vegas,” he paused momentarily “we did the only thing we could Sir, and tried to find a place to set down away from the fallout. As we were looking for a spot, the earthquake hit. It was as if someone took a bed sheet and shook it, I’ve never seen the ground move that much….anyway, all of the runways are busted so no conventional aircraft can take off or land.” 

    “Where did you end up, Captain?”

    “We landed on a road in the middle of nowhere…we couldn’t help anyone, Sir.” The pilot was starting to show emotion.

    “Captain, listen to me for a moment. What you did was the right thing. You couldn’t have helped anyone given your circumstances. You’re alive and your equipment is operational, that’s not something that everyone can say, do you understand?”
 
    “Yes Sir.”

    “What can you tell me about the other bases around here?”

    “Other? Do you mean Area 51…Groom Lake?”

    “Yes.”

    “They are definitely alive and well…and have given notice that anyone who comes into their airspace will be shot down.” He paused and continued. “I would take them at their word, Sir.”

    “Thanks for the heads-up. I don’t need to be shot at to get the message.” He paused and the said. “We have a tanker that we’re meeting in an hour or so. I don’t know your fuel situation but if you and your flight need to refuel, their call sign is ‘Tango One’. When I give our report to Raven Rock I’ll ask them what you are to do.”

    “Thank you Sir.” With that said, the Marine pilot snap rolled to the right and dove away, heading back towards Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

    Raven One proceeded towards San Diego and found the same situation as Los Angeles. Turning towards Las Vegas and a rendezvous with the tanker, Tango One and Raven One took on fuel and saw they were now accompanied by the six Marine Corps Harriers.

    Colonel Walters made contact with Raven Rock and gave his report. He was told to have the Carrier Reagan and their group to make temporary port at the Coast Guard Station in Kodiak, Alaska. The Harriers were ordered to fly to Hill Air Force Base in Utah along with the tanker. Raven One was told to fly east and continue gathering information.

    “Sir, we have communication with Fort Sill Army base in Oklahoma,” Comms said.

    Colonel Walters spoke with a Full Bird Colonel for fifteen minutes or so. Ft Sill had not been hit and didn’t have any damage from the west coast earthquakes; however they were in crisis mode due to a forty percent desertion rate.

    As their flight progressed and more contacts made with Army and National Guard bases, forty percent desertion rate was light compared to some as soldiers left in droves to their home towns and families.

    Turning to their new home at Hill AFB, Colonel Walters ask his Comm for a moment of privacy on the radio. Setting the frequency, he called Malmstrom. Captain Renee’ Wilson, whom he had met during the retaliatory missile launch, received the radio call.

    “Captain Wilson, this is Colonel Walters.” Bill said, hoping that she would remember.

    “Colonel, it’s good to hear your voice, I’m clear here, we can talk if you’d like.” Renee’ remembered the handsome Colonel and the plain lunch they shared together after the launch. They talked for twenty minutes and made a commitment to get together as soon as possible.

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