River Of Night – Snippet 35


It was nightfall, and the combined parties, including Tom’s group and Robbin’s extended clan, had closed the doors to the big barn, which was the only place large enough to accommodate everyone not on security watch. Preventing a light leak was important at night and Tom was pleased to note the discipline exercised by his former mates. Tempers as well as the temperature had subsided considerably by the time that Tom finished outlining his plan.

The assembled clans and the bank survivors had watched the principals bat the ideas back and forth for an hour. The audience’s collective head swung back and forth as though they were watching center court at Wimbledon.

“So let me see if I got this right,” Robbins said, still skeptical. “After we sort out teams, step one is to evacuate this ranch while you link up with your banker buddies at their ritzy refuge. That site is at least three, maybe five days away and you haven’t had any contact with them in almost four months. Meanwhile, we drag our collective asses through the zombie infected Cumberland Valley for up to another week and find a spot to cross the Tennessee and secure a hydroelectric power plant. Which may or may not be working. And we do this while potentially being chased by a larger force of unknown origin and unknown capabilities. And all because you think that they know where this place…” he smacked the table top with a palm “…is located. Because you lost a map.”

“Enough with the crook!” Tom said angrily. “You’ve only mentioned the map what, eight times? No matter how sorry I am, I can’t rewind the crash, Robbie! And if I could, I’d fooking well save Gravy first, wouldn’t I!”

“Alright, alright, everyone take a breath,” Debbie ordered. She looked back at her husband and when he remained quiet, she gave Tom a little ‘come on’ gesture.

He inhaled once, in-out, keeping his hands palm down on the table before continuing.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Tom explained again. “Our bank plan was to hunker down and wait for someone else to fix stuff.  The bank fall back points aren’t are really redoubts – they are interim way stations for some key people and data. You can’t restart a civilization without a bank.”

“Umm, I’m pretty sure that you can.” Robbins said.

“Actually, no, you can’t,” Tom said insistently. “At least not any civilization that you want to live in. Call it a bank, call it an agricultural cooperative, call it an infrastructure restoration agency – someone has to manage the money. Literally. What do we use for currency? How do you arrange a loan? Who establishes and enforces exchange rates? Do you have any idea how big the infrastructure projects to get this country running again are going to be? Trust me, you are going to need an economic system which doesn’t rely on trading wheat for iron for sugar and so on. It took hundreds of years to get from feudalism and chattel slavery to something like a modern economic system. Do you want to wait that long? Do you want your kids growing up in that?”

“Tommy, we’re just parts of five families, with kids,” Robbins replied, before pulling a familiar disc-shaped green can out of his pocket. He delivered several brisk taps to the lid, tamping down the dip tobacco. “We aren’t Delta, we aren’t FEMA and we aren’t the freaking Justice League. We aren’t going to be able to restart civilization. Somewhere else, someone else with the right people and gear is already on it.”

“You didn’t see New York burn,” Tom said. He didn’t have the tobacco ritual to relax himself, so he strained to sound reasonable. “You haven’t driven a few hundred miles, which by the way is about the minimum distance to start getting used to decaying corpses everywhere, looking at the wreckage of the country. It looks like pictures of Rwanda in ’94, but with Americans, Robbie. The radio spectrum is dark, the sky is empty and there is no civil authority anywhere. Whenever I haven’t been cursing whoever started this shit show I’ve been trying to bully around or over all the opposition in order to live up to my promises. I am going to redeem my word one way or the other. Long term, that means restarting everything.”

Robbins just sighed eloquently.

“Robby, we need a hydro plant because any credible plan to jumpstart our bit of civilization requires large scale power.” Tom said, rehashing the main points of his strategy for what felt like the tenth time. “The only plant that we can ‘fuel’ is a hydro plant, of which there are several in the Tennessee Valley. I’ve to get to Site Blue in order to warn them and ultimately prep it for a move too. I’m nervous about leaving you here because of the map. Yes, that we left in wreck. And yes, that was my fault. Doesn’t change what we have to do now, though.”

Robbins sat and glowered at his own map which was spread across the table. His skepticism didn’t require words. The distances on the map, the risk to their families, the unknowns – those had all been discussed in detail. He squinted over at his old team mate.

“I didn’t say that there aren’t details to work out,” Tom said, moving papers away so that only the empty brown table top stretched between himself and Robbins. “But, the alternative is to wait here until we are invested by a superior force, and then get into a gun fight on someone else’s terms while your family is supplying some of the foot soldiers. Even if those particular bad guys never show, how many years do you want to wait before you believe that there might not be anyone else coming?”

He glanced across the barn at the table where Worf, Astroga, Ralph and Eric were being run through a class on the antique machine gun by Junior. The tall, broad-shouldered youth was developing a progressively goofier expression as Astroga asked questions from close range. The younger daughter Jordan, who had been the ammo bearer for her brother, was at the briefing table sharing a bench with her parents. She also shared their same skeptical look.

“I agree with Robbie,” Pascoe said, squinting at Tom. “You done fucked up, Thomas. But that doesn’t mean that I have any better ideas.”

“Wait a minute, Davey!” Robbins said angrily. “You’re ready to pull up sticks and take our families on the road, out there?!”

“In case you forgot, Rob,” Dave Pascoe said, then spit into empty beer can. “Smitty was the man who gave us all the heads up that got us here before the virus spread. Took a mite of risk doing that, too. He ain’t said anything about it yet, but I’ll bet my last roll of Cope that he also toted along vaccine for everyone.” He looked back over at Tom. “Right?”

“We have vaccine,” Tom admitted. “We’ve followed the refrigeration protocol so it should be good. Can’t recommend it for anyone under twelve, ten at the lowest.”

“Better than nothin’,” Pascoe said, grinning at his old team mate. “Like that vaccine, a lot of really useful stuff, infrastructure, is going to go bad without someone to tend it. Better we try to get to some of it sooner than later.”

“Given the scenario that we find ourselves in, Tom, what we need is time,” Robbins Senior said as he looked first at Pascoe and then at the Tom. “The tangos that you bumped into could be heading this way right now, correct?”

“Yes,” Tom answered. “But we bloodied them pretty good. If they were going to pursue instantly, we would have seen them already. While things get sorted for the move here, we can send a couple teams to double back till one or both are in contact and delay the shit out of them. If we give them a second bloody nose, I think that they will chase us in order to defeat us in detail this time.”

He leaned over the map, and started tracing routes between the camp, Site Blue and the nearest dam.

“So we make two teams. Put some demo and say, four shooters in each truck.  We’ll retreat towards Blue while you head for the plant. Each scout truck covers one of the possible approaches to Blue. If we stumble into them unexpectedly, we can run faster than they can push, so we buy you time. If they chase us all the way to Blue, they bounce off the Site’s defenses, and we still buy you time.”

“How do we coordinate?” queried Pascoe.

“Mostly, we don’t,” Tom said. “The ridges limit VHF to line of sight. HF might work if we can get a decent antenna, good tropospheric conditions and an operator that knows his ass from a hole in the ground. We can set up a comms window once a day or so, but don’t count on it unless we can get to a high point, or we’re really close. On your end, start at Fort Loudon, then Watts Bar and Chickamauga. There’s one more past Chattanooga, but getting that close to a city is dangerous. If the first three are clearly beyond restart, then come back here. We’ll do the same.”

“Delaying tactics are supposed to be a specops specialty,” Matt Detkovic said, suddenly speaking up. “That’s your thing.”

Detkovic was a member of their little brotherhood, but his family hadn’t made it to the refuge unscathed. He’d taken the necessary actions to keep his wife from harming anyone after she turned, and as a result of heroic efforts, he hadn’t lost any of their large brood on the way to the refuge.