Monday, November 08, 2004

There were countless cast iron tools that would be more than handy if they could ever get them back to the base. Probably just one or two would be coming along with them when they left after their extended stay. They would certainly need to record the location very carefully and send multiple expeditions with heavier transportation equipment. There was maybe at least a year worth of salvage here, if no one else had the fortune of stumbling on it. The thought that maybe it already should have been discovered had already occurred to William, considering how close it was to the city, and he was a little worried, but not so worried that he would even begin to consider not going into the bunkers.

Probably the most useful thing they found, or to be fairer, had been found by Robbie much earlier, was the key ring. It had a number of keys that helped their search of the other above ground buildings on the base. A master level one building key was on it, which meant, for today, and as long as they were opening doors above ground, there would be no more shoulders bruised against doors that needed to be broken in as the garage had been the only one with a leak problem.

The mess hall was then checked, dark once again, till they cracked open the loading bay for the storage room and that helped quite a bit, though they’d missed the optimal time of day to get the most light inside as they looked around and even found food stores that were still good. The army had once had amazing techniques for preserving food. Meals Ready to Eat, or M.R.E.s, were there in abundance and, were in fact, better than anything else they had eaten in quite some time and later that night served as dinner for the hungry explorers. They were just about the most delicious things they’d had to eat in weeks, and were larger portions than they were used to from their own ration bars.

They took the time to explore the gym locker room and the base administration building before sundown. They found very little in the gym or its locker room, only the occasional trinket that had been dropped long ago. The biggest thing they found was the uniform depot where fatigues, uniforms, boots, and other daily equipment was stored, and both Robbie and Sanders got some nice sturdy new outfits, the boots were the best improvement that they could have imagined. The administration building, on the other hand, was full of information on paper locked away in filing cabinets and stored in memos, as well as containing computers, which almost certainly contained plenty of valid information that they could look through a little bit before they unplugged the hard drives to look at later on at a more permanent station.

That night they slept well, the excitement was still all around them, but the work of the day weighed more than enough on their shoulders to drop them off to sleep without any trouble at all. It was the dreamless sleep that exhaustion provides, but refreshing sleep nonetheless, and it served them well. They woke early the next morning, up and prepared themselves as quickly as they could possibly manage. It was going to be a busy day.

Chapter 6:

John and Cady got within visual range of the Wicker camp by mid-day and went on to approach it cautiously, keeping their senses strained for trouble as they approached it. Fear and stressed coursed through their bodies as they crept up upon the tents that were set up. Cady took the most direct approach and moved slowly while John went around the side and approached from the far side, noting the fence that it was stationed near and how it had been cut away. When it was clear the camp was abandoned for the morning they moved quicker and examined the site as closely as they could.

“ Someone was here last night, and it was probably them “, John stated as he looked up from the campfire ashes.

“ What are these? “

John looked at the object she had pulled from the ground nearby. It looked like trash, which was especially strange that it wasn’t in their waste pack where most waste went for reprocessing later. He reached out and took it slowly from her hand in order to examine it closely. It was a food kit of some sort, it smelled good and it looked like it had been a large meal even.

“ Food. “

“ What sort of food? Would anyone in Wicker have anything like this? “

John shook his head negatively, “ No “, he said. “ They must have picked it up from one of the local ruins. You think they’re in there somewhere? “ John gave his head a nod in the direction of the fence and as they both looked there were some clearly visible buildings visible a good distanced walk inward from the fence.

“ Looks promising “, she replied slowly as a worried look worked its way into her facial features.

Just the opposite, relief spread quickly through John’s body as the tension from the majority of the last day overcame him. A fresh site, with a large supply of relics and ripe for exploring would be more than a good enough reason to put in a call for help from the nearest expedition. His muscles relaxed and he even smiled as he looked inside the fence, his grip on his knife loosened and it even flashed and disappeared. John even smiled before he noticed that Cady was looking over stressed and gave her an inquisitive look.

“ Would they go in there without us? Is that safe? “ Cady looked at him.

“ I don’t know for sure, but I trust Will, and if they went in, then I believe it’s safe. “

“ Will? “

“ William Taylor, he taught me most of what I know. You probably never met him; he goes out more than any other journeyman. “ John looked deeper through the fence as he spoke to her. His attention was clearly divided between her and the new place.

Cady worried her lip a little as she looked around and did some more studying of her own over the site. She finally found relief, but it had nothing to do with the assurances that John had given her, because, despite his skills and experience (which was much more than her own, despite the small age difference, she suspected mostly that his expeditions had mostly been of the more traumatic variety), she didn’t think he was above humoring her to make her feel better in a pinch. Such distrust was a healthy attribute for any female to have in a world where no one should work on false information or rely totally on the people around her. However, as she looked around she saw only three sets of footprints. Prints that clearly belonged to the tents’ owners and they headed off into and from the nearby fence.

“ Okay, if you say so, I’ll just have to trust you “, she said, hoping that he had the same good sense to believe her as much as she believed him. Cady, of course, figured that there wasn’t a chance that he would. Guys were always way too trusting. It was almost scary when you thought about all the little things girls could, and did, do with their trust.

If she had been looking up, she might have noticed that he had already strayed into the fence and was heading towards the buildings, and had ceased paying attention to her before he had even finished speaking. Once inside the fence he scanned the nearly plain-like area that was covered in bunkers and buildings and surrounded by hills that were large enough to act as small mountains. The design and placement meant that fences were only needed on two sides of the facility, but it was only visible where the woods thinned out enough to let wandering eyes peek through into the rusty metal fence within the wilderness that may or may not have been there when it was first erected.

Cady set down her things before she noticed he was gone, and by the time she saw him, he was halfway to the buildings, when she yelled for him to stop and ran after him. He did of course stop and turn around for her long enough for her to catch up before he continued on.

“ Why aren’t you leaving your things in the camp? “

“ Don’t know what’s happening yet, not sure I want to camp with Will and his troop “, John answered her. “ And what if they are in trouble that they just got into today? You never, ever know. “

“ Yeah, well, I’m going to have a bit of a look around myself “, she said as she patted him on the back of his pack and went running off spitefully. Cady hated getting anything that even resembled a lecture, and that had been close enough.

John just smiled and let her go. He was in too good a mood to bother caring about whatever he’d done to tick her off today. She’d get over it before sundown anyway, but she had a point about his pack. Mostly he just hadn’t been thinking about it when he walked toward the fence, but he also still didn’t really care, it wasn’t like it weighed eighty pounds or more.

Thinking about it, did make him feel it though and he hefted it to a more comfortable position on his shoulders before promptly forgetting it again as it instantly slid right back to the same spot. He wondered if they would be together or spread out over the complex, as he looked around at all the buildings.

He decided there was only one way to find out and reasoned that in the worst case scenario he would see them at the camp that night as it looked like they were still staying at it. That was his biggest hope, and thinking about it only made the worry that there were indeed problems gnaw at the back of his mind in a way that wouldn’t be put to rest till he was talking to at least one of the Wicker men. He started by walking into the administration building, which was almost the closest to him, but had caught his attention because it was open.

It only took him a moment before he found that it had been pretty thoroughly explored the previous day, but hadn’t been returned to today. The dust in the air was horrible, the Wicker party had been very busy, he guessed based on the evidence presented. As soon as he saw they weren’t there, he stepped out and moved straight to the next building. Checking one building after another, he noticed a pattern in their behavior over the days that they had been here alone. They were clearly only exploring full sized above ground buildings and avoiding the bunkers. He checked the shed, the garage, the gym, and the cafeteria, where he actually stopped for an M.R.E., which he considered an indulgence and found its properties amazing, it was self heating, though he wasn’t sure how. It didn’t matter much considering how good it tasted.

By that time the sun was had moved half past noon and he was still in their tracks even though he felt he was probably getting closer. The next building he checked looked like it might be the mailroom as best as he could tell, but it was so empty there was no real way to be certain. He guessed that no one was getting any mail in the last few days of operation.

He finally found them in the equipment building examining all the equipment, which had been left behind by the previous occupants. Interestingly enough, somehow a pistol had been left behind and they were presently examining it, knowing that even if they ever used it, the ammo they had would be as finite as what they could find in this building here. They almost shot him when he stepped inside. They caught up with each other and shared stories about their previous months before Will brought John up to speed about what they had found so far. Cady found them midway through their gathering and they continued to talk as they traveled back to the camp for the evening where they talked long into night before they all fell asleep.

***

John woke up first the next morning, followed by William, they ate breakfast together and William game John specific information about how the base generator worked so that he could deal with it too. William gave a much more detailed briefing on the number of bunkers they had mapped and which ones they would be entering. They were going to use halogen lamps they found in the equipment building first, he said, he didn’t want to turn the generator on till they were ready to do as much work as possible as they only had maybe a week, give or take a few days of power worth of fuel.

By the time the discussion was in full swing everyone else was up and had eaten their M.R.E. for the day. They had all agreed that while it lasted, they should enjoy the extra food that was ready for them. The morning warmed up and the cool of the night faded away till it was full light out by the time they all hiked to the closest bunker to them, the barracks, according the maps they had taken from the walls of the local buildings.

Robbie did the honors of unlocking the door and Sanders, having the least experience, stayed watch at the door as they trooped in single file, wielding the halogen lights they pulled from the equipment building the day before when John had first found them. Again, it was empty, and more disappointing; it didn’t lead down any lower. They moved on to the next building, the library.

John went in first this time. He moved his halogen lamp inside, and wondered how many of the books would even be in any kind of readable condition. The air was stale, if not slightly rank. William followed and after him Cady, then Robbie stepped into the ample space provided by the room, the door leaving a bright light on the floor and the lamps casting a cool bluish tinted light over everything in the room, about 20 rows of shelves on their left and eighteen on their right, ending at a staircase going down. The center of the room was filled with tables and four desks arranged as an island in the center of the building where most of the work took place, with extremely old looking computers on them.

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