Authors: John O'Brien
“Yeah, perhaps someday we’ll be able to do that once again.
I hope so anyway,” he says.
“But you didn’t come over just to discuss wishful thinking, did you?”
“Well, yes and no.
Under different circumstances, yes, but I was wondering if there were any fiber-optic snake cams in the crates we gathered from the armories?”
“Yeah, we found some unpacking the crates.
We only have four but we could find some additional ones I’m sure if you need them.
How many do you want?”
“I’ll take the four we have now,” I answer.
“Also, we could use some of the walkie-talkies from the store if you could drum some of those up.”
“I can do that.
Let me go get them.
I’ll be right back,” he says.
My thought is that the people at the compound have to communicate in some fashion and would most likely use walkie-talkies using generic and open frequencies.
I want to use the radios to monitor their calls if they are in fact using those.
Anything to get a better picture of what we are facing.
Waiting for Bannerman to return, in a similar manner that he was, I relish the warmth bathing my face.
The knot in my stomach doesn’t allow complete relaxation.
The tension and worry inside feels like every muscle in my body is clenched.
“Now, Jack, you aren’t planning to go in by yourself or anything, are you?”
Lynn’s voice asks behind me, interrupting my reverie.
“Someone’s been telling on me,” I say without turning.
“Bannerman might have mentioned a thing or two,” she says.
“Not planning on it, but if the opportunity presents itself, I want to be ready,” I answer her question.
“Jack, that’s your way of saying yes,” she says as I turn toward her.
“Seriously, I am not planning on anything but getting a better look at what we are facing, but if there’s a chance of getting Gonzalez and the kids out, I’m taking it.
Believe me, I’m not going to jeopardize their safety to alleviate my own anxiety,” I say.
“What about the others in the compound?”
“And before you answer, I know the kids and Gonzalez are the priority, but the others deserve a chance as well.”
“I’m not completely heartless and have given them some thought as well.
My hope is that we can find a way to get everyone out, assuming of course that we’re right about what’s going on, but the kids come first,” I answer.
“Just be careful, Jack, and I know they come first.
I want you to come back as well,” she replies.
“I will, hon.
I will,” I respond and give her another kiss.
“I want more moments with you and I’m not looking to depart this world so soon.
Even if it is a rather fucked-up one right now.”
Echo Team, with Greg in the lead, emerge from Cabela’s with their gear and head towards one of the Humvee’s with Red Team, or what is left of them, gathered by it.
Bannerman follows shortly on their heels and hands the fiber-optic cams and radios over for which I thank him.
We talk about switching our tactical frequencies.
If the kids and Gonzalez were taken, then our radios will be in the marauder’s possession giving them ears into our conversations.
We settle on a primary and secondary frequency.
“Okay, time to go.
I love you,” I say to Lynn.
“I love you too.”
With that, we pile in the Humvees, the diesel engines cranking over and spilling their throaty roar across the still parking lot.
Small amounts of dark smoke exit the exhausts and drift on the morning breeze before dissipating altogether.
The day has warmed the interior of the vehicles and I feel a trickle of sweat roll down my neck and a slight sting as it crosses the still open scratch on my neck.
I usually heal quickly but this one doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon.
I put my hand to the bandage covering the wound.
I have been pouring antibiotics over it daily and taking them as well.
At least it stopped oozing, I think remembering that night in Portland and how close we came to becoming just another pile of corpses in some remote location.
The periodic headaches, which I have associated with the slow-healing wound, have diminished to an extent as well.
Shrugging and forgetting about it as we pull out of the lot, I set my mind on the task ahead.
The tension centering in the pit of my stomach tightens as my thoughts center on what lies ahead.
I would like nothing more than to take some Strykers and Bradleys and wipe the people, who took my kids and possibly harmed them, off the face of the earth.
I know that isn’t the solution but that doesn’t alleviate my anger, worry, or desire.
We turn south on the Interstate, staggering our small convoy in case others happen to be around.
I thought about taking the helicopter and proceeding ahead of the group to scout for anyone watching or waiting, but that would mean I would have to return and proceed on my own presenting an easier target.
It must have happened so fast, with Gonzalez and the kids, that they didn’t have a chance to get on the M240 mounted on top.
That would have taken care of the truck in short order.
I’m actually surprised the truck took on a Humvee to begin with but they must have planned it well and given them little time to respond.
With that thought, I radio the others following to make sure the guns are manned at all times as we transit.
I shake my head.
I should have thought of this earlier and made it a priority.
I guess I wasn’t thinking other survivors would do something like kidnapping and felt that the day was relatively safe.
Any dealings with any other groups will be treated very cautiously.
We will have to be as cautious during the day as we are at night.
I mean, as if it isn’t dangerous enough with night runners, we have to deal with this as well.
That is seriously messed up.
I have Greg, in the third Humvee, take a large lag position as we turn onto the highway heading toward the encampment.
I want to be able to catch anyone following or at least be alerted if we are located.
The plan is to take the back roads, mostly power line roads, and get into a position on a hill overlooking the compound.
The hill is far enough away and forested so we shouldn’t be seen if we are careful but it will allow us to observe.
I plan to keep two of the Humvees on the back side of the slope with one just on the edge where we can observe from the relative safety of the enclosed vehicle at night.
I’m not sure what the night runner activity is but I don’t want to be caught out after dark.
We should be safe enough with the Humvees locked down.
Of course, if the night runners do find us, they’ll also be giving away our position to those in the camp.
I’m hoping they haven’t ventured this far outside of the cities as yet but I keep Frank’s evaluation in mind; that they’ll be moving out into the country to hunt.
Hopefully they already aren’t doing so.
We pull off the road, head a short distance up one of the side roads, and pull onto a power line service road.
McCafferty is driving and we slow to a crawl so we don’t kick up a dust trail.
The fine dirt covering the road doesn’t have any fresh tracks so I am moderately convinced no one is using or monitoring this road.
Greg reports our tail clear as he enters the road a short time later.
I’m not sure of the patrol pattern, if any, by the people at the camp but it certainly wouldn’t do for them to come across our trail if they happen along the side road.
I radio Greg to find some large, leafy branches to tie just behind the rear tires of his vehicle.
This should partially erase the tracks of our vehicles or at least not make them as apparent.
Being the trail vehicle, this should cover all of our tracks.
It will stir up more dust but if we go slowly enough, it should be negligible.
My main concern is the noise as we creep along but there are hills between us and the main road which should hide any sound we are making.
If they’ve posted lookouts on the taller hills, we will be spotted though.
I turn on one of the walkie-talkies and set it to scan.
Every once in a while, as we slowly thread our way through, around, and over hills, a burst of static or a hint of a word comes through the radio in my hand.
I notice it stops at channel seventeen each time.
I take a second one out and set it to that channel while allowing the first one to continue scanning.
The day is heating up and, with our vests and full uniforms, it causes sweat to form under our armpits and a drop or two to run off our brows.
The bandage on my neck becomes soaked and the stinging brings awareness of the scratch from time to time.
The sun shines brightly through the dusty windshield and seems a touch overly bright.
Not the distinct brightness like when I had the “vision” outside of the Safeway, but still a touch intense.
Our wheels continue to turn slowly on the dusty road as we pass tower after tower; the steel monoliths no longer doing the job they were designed for, or, I should say the large, heavy lines they are supporting aren’t.
The towers now sit as remote reminders of a time past; forgotten in the hills through which they wander.
We eventually arrive at the bottom of the hill I plan to observe from.
I have McCafferty edge off the road and maneuver through the trees until we come just below the crest.
I get out and walk to the top, being careful not to silhouette myself against the skyline.
The location provides an open view but the trees give enough of a cover so we can remain concealed.
I guide McCafferty to a piece of flat ground from which we will be able to view the encampment.
The two other vehicles pull alongside just behind the crest.
We gather branches around the area and throw them around the Humvees to conceal them further.
A big concern is any glare from the windows reaching the compound.
I’ll keep the windows covered during the day on the camp side to prevent the sun from hitting them at the wrong angle and giving our position away.
We’ll rotate shifts.
Two will be outside observing through binoculars and another two monitoring the radios.
We’ll monitor the walkie-talkie radios and record our observations with times and activity.
The shifts taking the night positions will rest during the day and observe from the lead Humvee at night.
We’ll close up the vehicles at night and keep the windows up.
This is to minimize our scent being transmitted outside and to ensure we are secure in case any night runners show up.
Hopefully any scent we do leave during the day will have dissipated.
We will also make our restroom activities a good distance from our location.
With the vehicles concealed but still allowing easy entrance, I radio base to let them know we’ve arrived.
With the rest of the team, I climb to a place where we can overlook the camp with ease, crawling the last few yards.
We won’t be able to make out the farm because it lies in the distance to the east beyond several tree lines.
We may have to head over that way later but that will take some time to sneak over unseen and I don’t want anyone to get stuck outside after the sun sets.
The initial look through the binoculars is as I remember it.
The fence with the rolls of barbed wire along the top, the wooden towers built a little ways back from the fence with lights mounted, and pole-mounted lights at intervals along the perimeter.
The difference is that, looking at the perimeter lights, I see now that they are the lights construction crews use working on the roads; generator-powered and able to cast a great deal of light outward.
It remains to be seen just how much of the perimeter is lit at night.
There are people in the corner towers; two to each tower.
We’ll see whether they man all of the towers at night or randomly selected ones.
There are a few armed people walking outside close to what used to be the main office building in the center of the campus.
Very few others are seen anywhere.
No sign of Robert, Michelle, Bri, or Gonzalez.
Thoughts of taking over the compound during the day and setting into the others as they arrive settle in and I stow them in the back of my mind.
We’ll just have to see what patterns emerge.
My guess is that a majority of the guards and the others are at the fields working.
There may also be night shift personnel resting.
Whatever plan we come up with will have to minimize variables that could cause collateral casualties.
It may be that I go in and just pull the kids out prior.
Time will tell.