Authors: John O'Brien
“Do you want to drive?”
Robert asks her.
“Nah, that’s okay, you know where you’re going so you can,” Gonzalez answers.
They climb in with the metallic sound of the shutting doors ringing across the still morning.
The small number of soldiers, relishing their first day without having to worry about duties related to their survival, is startled and turns their heads at the sharp sounds.
Gonzalez, sitting in the passenger seat, loosens her vest and places her M-4 at her side.
Robert starts the vehicle as Michelle and Bri get settled in the back.
The heavy thrum of the diesel engine vibrates the interior and Robert pulls out of the parking lot.
Glancing in her side mirror, Gonzalez watches Jack grow smaller as they pull over the small hill and he disappears from view.
They drive to the heavy steel gates drawn across the entrance road.
Robert pulls to a stop near the barred gates and two soldiers, these from Horace’s Green Team, lift the cross beam and swing the gates open.
The heavy steel bar holding the gates fast has a fulcrum on one end to make the lifting easier.
Gonzalez gives a wave to the two soldiers as they pull through the opening and out onto the road that eventually connects with the Interstate.
Turning southbound on the Interstate, they head toward town.
The smell of smoke lingers in the air from the neighborhood burns they conducted earlier but the brownish haze has vanished, replaced with pristine scenic views of the mountains to both sides in the distance.
The grass in the medians between the north and southbound lanes has grown measurably since their arrival and threatens to cut off the view of the other lanes.
There’s a freshness to the air that she senses; perhaps in part knowing they are more secure in their environment.
Their initial conversation centers on her asking how their training is going but that drifts off as each folds into their own thoughts; hers wandering back to her family.
She sends a silent prayer out for them as they progress down the highway with the sun streaming in the side windows.
She feels thankful for the group of survivors and for Jack’s and Lynn’s leadership in getting them to this point and place but there’s a hardness settling in about finding her family; the determination to do so getting stronger.
However, she also has a sense of responsibility to the group and won’t venture off on her own.
If they don’t let her go, she’ll stay but knows the gnawing inside her will remain until she knows for sure.
Shaking the thoughts from her head, she rolls down the window to allow fresh air in and relishes in the pervasive energetic feeling it gives her.
It’s good to be out for a leisure activity
; something she didn’t think would ever happen again.
Although confident of her own and the group’s abilities, the events and frenzied activity of the past months left her feeling like they were running on borrowed time.
The completion of the wall changed that.
Though there are still a lot of things that need to be put in place before they are totally secure, finishing the wall is a relief to them all.
Now if we can just get ourselves into a place where we don’t have to go into buildings, then I’ll feel much better
, she thinks as she watches the trees by the side of the road flash by.
If I never have to set foot into another darkened building again, I’ll feel fortunate
She watches as Robert turns off the highway and heads further into Olympia, progressing through the outskirts of downtown and onto a road paralleling the open bay to their left.
The road is two lanes abutting the bay, the edge giving way to the burned out hulks of houses on the waterfront.
A steep cliff rises to the immediate right of them.
The ditch alongside the road under the cliff is deep making her think that there must be a lot of water that flows down during the rainy season.
She watches the sunlight sparkle off the waters of the large bay; the open water calm with only a hint of waves.
The sound of the tires humming along the pavement echoes off the dirt cliff just outside of her open window.
The beautiful scene across the shimmering waters, the purr of the wheels kissing the road, the vibration of the Humvee’s powerful motor felt through the soles of her boots, the sun-filled day and fresh air blowing in gives her a sense of peace and calm.
A pack of dogs enter the road from the burned structures ahead and take off up a side street that climbs the steep embankment; the pack pausing only momentarily to view the approaching Humvee.
A flash of movement in the side mirror catches her attention.
Leaning forward, she sees the front end of a red pickup truck following them and watches it closing in.
“We’ve got company,” she tells Robert as she reaches for the microphone.
She hesitates a moment analyzing the situation.
The truck is closing in quickly but she isn’t sure of the intentions of the driver or the passengers she sees clearly now.
After all, they are still on the lookout for remaining survivors and these people may just be trying to catch them with the same thought in mind.
However, until she knows better, she’ll treat the situation with caution particularly given the rate at which the truck is closing in.
She starts looking for a side road to take in order to get them out of here.
Her plan is to head back to Cabela’s and, if the people right behind her are friendly, they’ll ascertain that when they arrive.
However, all of the side roads seem to have vanished and only the steep dirt cliff remains.
“Robert, speed up and keep your eye out for a road.
We’ll take the first one that presents itself,” Gonzalez says setting the mic down momentarily to slide the bolt of her M-4 back, chambering a round.
The truck is directly behind them and she turns to look over her shoulder to get a better look.
Both Michelle and Bri are also staring out of the back window.
The chrome grill, headlights, and part of the windshield are the only visible aspects of the truck through the window.
That’s just too fucking close
, she thinks noticing also they aren’t honking or flashing their lights to get them to pull over.
An uneasy feeling comes over her and she notices Bri turn and chamber a round in her M-4 as well.
Robert has pressed down on the pedal gaining speed but she knows they won’t be able to outrun the truck.
Turning back to the front, she looks again for a road exiting off the one they’re on.
Picking up the mic, she presses the talk button, “Base, Gonzalez here.”
“Base here, go ahead,” she hears a female voice answer through the speaker, thinking that it’s Kathy on the other end.
“We have a vehicle that has started following us.
Large red pickup truck,” Gonzalez says glancing in the side mirror again.
The truck is not in her sight anymore.
Looking to her left, she sees the truck is now in the other lane attempting to pass and almost right next to them.
It’s too late to tell Robert to block their passage by edging into the other lane.
A loud metal on metal sound erupts as the truck crashes into their side, attempting to force them off the road.
The Humvee lurches to the right from the impact and Robert turns the wheel to try and keep them on the road.
The Humvee’s wheels edge off the road and dig into the soft gravel and dirt alongside the narrow shoulder.
Robert does his best to keep it out of the ditch but a mighty crash signals another attempt by the truck to force them off the road.
“Oh shit, they’re trying to force us off the road,” Gonzalez says in the radio.
Her voice has taken on the higher pitched voice of excitement and adrenaline kicking in.
The Humvee wheels catch the steep incline of the ditch and begin to drag the vehicle quickly into it.
Their vehicle lurches to the side at a steep angle.
With the mic still unknowingly pressed, she tells Robert, “Turn the wheel to the…”
She doesn’t get the rest out as another lurch and clang of metal tips the Humvee into the ditch.
The view outside tilts and then rolls.
The side fenders and hood catch the hard dirt of the cliff and she feels herself vaulted forward.
The windshield quickly nears.
She feels the impact with it and everything fades.
The click coming across the radio is a like a jolt of electricity running through me.
I stare at the speaker as if my concentration will force Gonzalez’ voice through it once again but it sits on the desk in silence.
I grab the mic from Kathy’s hand.
“Gonzalez, base here, respond!”
I say hoping for a reply.
Nothing but continued silence.
I drop the microphone on the desk and turning, I yell across the interior, “Lynn!”
Adrenaline, fear, and worry course through me along with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
My immediate thought is they’ve run afoul of whatever red truck Gonzalez reported.
A dozen thoughts of who, what, and where race through my mind but the most immediate is to get everyone mobilized and for me to get in the air.
I start running for the front door and see Lynn pounding down the escalator stairs.
I slow to a brisk walk as she joins me.
“Something’s happened to Gonzalez and the kids.
Mobilize the teams and get them into Humvees.
Start southbound on the Interstate and I’ll contact you.
The last transmission from Gonzalez said a red truck was following them.
I’m getting airborne,” I say walking briskly to the doors.
Where were they?”
She asks in rapid fire succession.
“I don’t know.
The transmission went dead in the middle of their report.
I don’t know exactly where they are or were but I’ll follow the route they should have taken.
Just be on the lookout for either the Humvee or a red truck,” I say reaching the front doors.
“Will do, Jack.
We’ll be on the road soon,” she says turning back to the interior.
“All teams, on me, ASAP!” Lynn shouts across the interior.
I do a quick check on my weapons and gear reassuring myself that all is in order and I have enough ammo should I need it.
I wouldn’t want to locate the kids only to find I wasn’t able to help them because of my rush.
Exiting into the shade of the drive-thru overhang, I spot Greg sitting on the curb apparently enjoying the feel of the sun bathing him.
“Greg, grab your gear, you’re with me.
I’ll explain when you get back.
Meet me at the helicopter,” I say and head across the parking lot towards the Kiowa parked on the far side away from the other vehicles.
Lynn shouts across the lot for everyone to gather.
I turn and see Greg looking my direction with a questioning look.
I shake my head to indicate he’s to ignore Lynn’s request and follow me.
Greg turns, exchanges a word or two with Lynn, and runs into the building.
I run over to the helicopter, jump in, and begin the start sequence.
Time is of the essence.
If they’ve been taken, every minute means another mile or close to it in some direction.
It will take time to trace their route in order to locate either them or at least find a starting point.
And, if I choose the wrong direction, then that’s a lesser chance of locating them again.
The rotors begin spinning overhead as Greg runs out of the building and jumps in.
He dons the spare helmet and I brief him as the rotors come up to speed.
Lifting off into the clear morning air, I swing to the south to pick up the Interstate.
Tense and anxious, I gain altitude in order to get a longer range of view.
I need to find them or catch sight of the red truck soon or this will turn into an area search ordeal with each moment’s passing making the odds of locating them less and less.
I hook up with I-5 to my left and make contact with the base to establish communication.
The gray road stretches north and south and is empty of movement.
I search for movement and look for the Humvee parked to the side of the highway.
Nothing moves except an occasional flash of white from gulls circling in random patterns closer to the bay.
I know where the kids were headed so I fly up the Interstate to the exit Robert should have taken to the beach.
Very small wisps of brown smoke drift lazily upward from a couple of points indicating some of our area burns are still warm.