Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Robbie’s nature included an odd and often un-noticed proclivity to avoid any sort of damage while inside of these ruins, that were like hallowed ground to him, whenever he could. The few people close enough to him to notice and ask always got told that it was merely a healthy respect for history. In a way, that was totally true, these places were history to him. To a lot of people, it was just seventy years of decay and some useful tidbits, but Robbie could never keep himself from wondering. Pondering the things that he found, the craftsmanship. It was second nature to him to imagine who was the last person to walk where he set his feet, be it looter, or original owner. What wasn’t damp with decay was coated in a thick layer of dust. There had to be a water pipe broken somewhere for the air to be so damp. Sure enough, when he listened carefully, he heard the dripping of water from a leak. He wandered around the little cubicle room leaving the door into the main garage closed. Locked, or unlocked, the state of the door didn’t really matter; he’d kick it in tomorrow morning when he came back. It was way too dark to do any more tonight. He could probably pry open the vehicle bays and get some real light in there. He stepped back out into the darkness; it had been late twilight when he had gone in.

Robbie looked left and then right, glancing over the bunkers around him and pondering. This was his first military base; he was still relatively new at this. He’d worked hard and trained to be the best, but he still surprised himself when he found things that he wasn’t really prepared for. He started to walk back towards camp at a slow meandering pace. It had been a long and tiring day, filled with more geographical survey and land mine checking than anything else. It was meticulous, dull, repetitive and totally mortally vital work, the absolute worst kind.

Before he got beyond the perimeter of the buildings around them, Sanders caught up with him and started walking along side. He looked like a million bucks; this was clearly heaven to him. It was a little bit of heaven to Robbie too, a heaven he’d worked hard for and respected.

“ How’s it going? “ Robbie asked the man beside him in as friendly and amiable way as he could bring himself to exert.

“ Slow, but incredible, I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s different from the city in some really interesting ways “, Sanders rambled just a little.

“ Find anything interesting? “

“ Well, I found one or two above ground store houses for food; but I seriously doubt there was anything edible in there. “

“ Well, from what I know, that’s not for sure “, Robbie a little curious about whether or not Sanders’ guess was right, “ From what I hear, those M.R.E.s last a lifetime, and that’s probably just about how long it’s been. Think maybe they’ve ever been tested this old? ”

“ I wouldn’t know, but speaking frankly “, the last word trailed off in a sort of question, and Sanders paused waiting to be acknowledged by Rob.

“ Yes? “

“ I wouldn’t want to be the one to test and see if they’re edible. “

Robbie couldn’t help the short outburst of laughter. That was genuinely funny; it had been the first time that Hank had made a real joke since they set out. Frankly he had been wondering if he were safe to bring along at all, and even had started feeling that Will was extremely lucky that he had returned in time to accompany the two. Rob was not decisive on this; his thoughts on the matter reminded him that a third party member had punctuated his own first expedition. That experience had been harrowing.

“ Well, I’m sure they can’t possibly be any worse than they were when they were brand new, if I understand correctly about them “, Robbie shared.

“ Sounds like the army life wasn’t for me then. “

“ Never know, life has a funny way of doing things to you that you never really see coming. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, but they just come out of the blue and all of a sudden, everything you knew has changed into something else entirely “, Robbie spoke with a dreamy look creeping into his eye. Sanders didn’t respond, maybe because he was half expecting Robbie to say more, say something he didn’t already know. When Rob’s eyes focused again the campfire was in range and he could see Will’s silhouette sitting next to it. That was a man he could imagine eating M.R.E.s, some people just seemed to be made for a hard purposeful life.

Robbie and Sanders kept chatting back and forth on the way to the fence and into the camp. When they got there they had some of their ration bars. Robbie and William ate thoughtfully as they contemplated the world they were preparing to explore again the next day; Hank on the other hand ate quickly and dropped to sleep equally fast.

***


The next morning they were all up before dawn and crawling over the base buildings. Each one had one of fascination that kept them busy, Rob had the garage, Sanders had the mess hall and adjoining storage building, while William had something all together different.

Will waited till both his companions were out of site before he snuck off to where he’d been keeping an eye on the day before. He walked at a quick pace toward the east side of the base and approached the work-shed that jutted out from one of the largest bunkers in the facility. The door, like the one on the garage, had been kicked in the night before and abandoned till morning light. They had started their walk before sun up, but by the time he got to the shed it was getting fairly light out. He stepped inside the structure after he noted all the pipes coming from it and spreading to the rest of the base.

He had seen something there the night before that led him to suspect something that could prove very useful when help came and they went inside the underground campus. Sure enough, when he was inside of the shed he saw that it was exactly what he thought it was. There really wasn’t much else to expect inside of a shed of such size, it was a huge space with almost nothing inside to rot, though there was plenty there that had spent the time rusting. He hoped that the most important item had been made out of quality materials that wouldn’t have rusted.

The cement felt solid beneath his boots. Somehow he always felt more comfortable walking on real floors than trekking through the woods like many of his friends. His boots tapped as he walked toward the wall of machinery that was the outer side of what was clearly labeled as the primary generator. He smiled on the inside when his flashlight glistened across rust free metal parts. Bingo, he thought. Real lighting would be very nice.

The tank was full and after another four or five hours of studying it he found a little locker underneath it with a manual that was laminated and almost totally untouched by time. Sometimes the amount of pure luck that Will experienced was more than he could accept. It was something he had pondered very much in his longer years, which he had ultimately concluded to be a useless activity.


***


When Hank Sanders first set foot in the mess hall it was still pitch black, despite the outdoors warming up from black to a pale gray-blue light, it wasn’t quite bright enough to shine on the interior. By the time he’d fully explored the room and opened up the blinds on all the windows the light shined in full force from the east and everything took on a bright and warm glow that probably nothing in the room had had for years.

The tables were empty, although on the floor he did find a couple of pencils and pens and some loose change that wasn’t any good to anyone anymore. He examined the whole space meticulously before he moved on to the next room, the kitchen. It took him some pondering before it finally clicked in his head that he could just break the locked door, that stood next to the closed metal blinds that were shut on the shiny serving counter, in. It was almost comical how bad he hurt himself when he slammed into the obstacle with his shoulder.

Eventually Hank cracked the door, and after some considerable pain and frustration even got it to give way to him and slam inward, letting in a rectangular pool of light. He was instantly greeted by a whole world of stainless steel. The room was sterile and devoid of any of the smells that he’d found in the other places he’d been during their expedition. He had been getting very used to the odor of decay, and it was a pleasant surprise to be met with dry, clean, though stagnant air.

Sanders turned his flashlight back on and started looking around. He found the latch to the blinds and rolled them up into the ceiling, letting some real light into the stainless steal monstrosity of a room. Knives, pots, pans, whisks, everything he could have imagined was lying around. The mess hall was probably the last place anyone was thinking of when they stopped coming to work and live here. There was a large metallic island for food preparation, stoves, and a massive sink for dishes. There was probably genuine food preparation here. He hadn’t expected that. He guessed if anyone had, William might have, but he hadn’t mentioned this to Will.

There was also a direct connection to the local storage shed he’d been looking at from the outside, and another door that was unmarked.


***


Rob did some walking around the garage this time in the morning light looking for anything he might have missed in the dark. He tried checking the bay doors first, but sure enough, they were locked. The window on the far side however was sturdy and still in good shape fitted into the metal siding. He wiped at it with his sleeve, but the interior was far dustier and still blocking his view.

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