©2006, Kier Salmon and Tarl Neustaedter
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Kier Salmon and Tarl Neustaedter in 2005, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental, with the exception of BD and Theo; the originals thereof know themselves and have granted permission for this use.
1810 hours 17 March, 1998. (Change Year)
I-5 southbound 1½ miles north of the Terwilleger exit, Portland, Oregon.
Traffic advanced gently over the tarmac. It was a relief to see it dry after so much rain. 1½ miles to the next exit, said the sign. “Should I, shouldn’t I?” she wondered, watching the long line of semis. If she switched lanes and passed the semis she might miss her exit. Traffic shuddered to a stop and then picked up again; rumbling toward her exit. Light stabbed through her brain… and her engine died. Data cascaded through the pain; the car’s momentum fought the frozen gears. She flipped the van into neutral and wrestled the sluggish wheel over, blinded by the light and peculiar pain. Long experience with migraines helped her focus through this pain that was no migraine.
Rough concrete rasped jarringly along the car’s side. Her teeth clicked together as the car screeched and squealed against the concrete barrier. She practically stood on the suddenly stiff brake. Her vision cleared to the sight of semis skidding and jackknifing around cars careening out of control, or bucking to a dead stop. The highway was chaos.
A glittering star, high in the darkening sky fell. She rubbed her head and turned the key. Nothing clicked, gurgled or buzzed. The glittering star fell out of sight. A column of black smoke climbed the darkening sky. Her incredulous, “What?” fought with gut feeling of disaster. Her stomach clenched and her brain stammered out facts. Motors dead, cars dead, smoke climbing over the I-5/217 interchange; conclusion: one traffic helicopter dead in the air; fallen. She shuddered at the sudden and gory visual.
Light winked at her from the left, over the Willamette river. A little airplane fought its way down. She clawed open the door and stood on the running board. Great Goddess! It wasn’t so much a prayer as a plea. Kernunos, help them! The plane tried to land in the Willamette and missed, crashing into the barren eastern shore. Bending, breaking, screeching metal sounds reached her ears, but there was no explosion. Fire flickered sullenly up from the fuselage. BD looked at her section of I-5. Many accidents, some fires, but no explosions.
She sat down again and turned the key. Nothing; no tickle, no sound, no click. Through her windshield she saw a man turning his key back and forth; across the highway people were lifting the hoods of their cars. Data started to cascade again and she reached under the seat for her little flashlight. No light. Her watch, no ticking. The street lamps had been flickering on and off as the late winter day came to an end… they were dark, no longer flickering.
Frowning, she stood on the running board again. Craning out of the van she looked east and north to the airport. If that little plane fell down, what happened to the bigger ones taking off and landing out at PDX? She strained to see in the rapidly closing dark. Columns of black smoke stood out on the horizon. Shit, shit, shit… They must be falling out of the sky… she thought with a horrible twist of her stomach. Some might belly flop in the Columbia or the Willamette, but… Oh, shit, the eastern air corridors are over NE Portland… She shuddered, seeing a flaming holocaust in the populous north east sector. Images of twisted steel and fiberglass shards mixed with hapless human bodies gripped her.
Damn! This time the world is coming to an end! she thought, horror overwhelming her. She shook off the vision, tears leaking out of her eyes, leaning on the car door. It didn’t help, more came in and she scrubbed her face roughly. She focused on the highway, on the people being taken out of wrecked cars and lined up on the road. Several miles up-slope was “Pill Hill;” the biggest hospital complex in the state. For these people it was on the moon. No cars meant no ambulances, no fire trucks… Could it be possible that the thing had only happened on this stretch of I-5? No, the planes came down. A man walked up to her. “You OK?”
“Dunno, my head hurts. I must have bumped it. We should open up the center lane by pushing the cars out of the way.”
“It’s against the law to abandon vehicles on the highway…”
“Think, man! It’s going to take a fleet of tow trucks working round the clock to clear this out; opening up a lane will help.” Calm, zen, calm, zen… she thought. You can’t lose your temper, just because you are shocky; because you can see ‘The End of the World is Here’ and they can’t.
“Oh,” he said and walked away, waving his hands, calling for help. She watched as others moved over to him and soon they were pushing the cars to the edge. The action spread. It left room to lay down the injured and dead. There weren’t many dead. We must have been moving slowly enough that the semis didn’t kill everybody when they jackknifed. She wondered why their brakes had locked.
“Got a blanket?” BD looked down into the tear filled eyes of a woman, bruised, battered, and bleeding.
“Yeah.” She pushed the back hatch button. It was electrical, not mechanical. With a sigh BD pulled the keys out of the ignition and popped the hatch manually. She pulled out two quilts and a thermal blanket and gave them to the woman. She was reaching for the rip stop nylon bags stuffed with spare clothing when she was roughly shouldered aside by a man reaching for the serape her mother had given her. Her hand clamped down on his wrist. “Let go,” she growled, a red tide rising over her eyes.
“You let go. There are injured people!” he screamed. BD slapped him.
“Now,” she said, injecting all the command at her disposal into her voice, “I’ve given up my blankets. This I value. Here,” she hauled out the rip stop bags, “Clothing, or pillows if you want. Take.” He grabbed the bags and walked away.
BD rolled up the serape and tied it, got her flip knife, threaded it on her belt and bundled up her maps. She turned with her first aid kit in hand and it was taken before she could open her mouth. Her emergency water and food kits vanished equally quickly. She took her maps and the serape, slung her purse over her shoulder and looked at the mayhem as night fell and shook her head minutely. There were more than enough hands to do rescue work and she couldn’t make a difference to any of them; but she could make a difference to herself. She walked to the Terwilleger exit, a list growing in her mind.
❀ ❁ ❀
More than an hour later she waved her credit card at Avery. Now her indecisiveness over which bike to buy and haunting this shop for weeks was paying off in an unexpected way. Avery was willing to take the card for the bike she’d decided on, a wide-tired touring bike, lady step-through, upright with a little trailer hooked on behind. “Going to take that bike Myrtle wanted?” he asked.
“Wish I could; can’t get it home without my car.”
“Sure you can.” Avery laughed and set up the second bike and fiddled with some odd looking pieces of metal and a vice grip for a while. He attached them to the two bikes. They stood in a line, a tandem that one person could peddle in front and pull a “triple” of one little “u-haul” trailer and another bike and another little “u-haul” trailer. It doubled the weight she had to pedal or push and her carrying power.
As Avery handed her the receipt, he asked, “What do you reckon it is?”
Mute, BD shook her head.
“How far do you think it goes?”
She looked out the dark street; the people trudging home, the cars; either in neat rows waiting for the light to change, or in a tangled sprawl. “How far?” Everywhere, her mind whispered.
“I mean, do you know how far EMP radiates?”
“I don’t.” She considered. “If it was EMP it might have blown over Seattle. If you head towards Medford or Idaho you might find the edge.” If it was EMP, I should have seen an explosion - a bright flash; heard a concussion. That pain and headache were something else. On the other hand, if it was a dirty bomb I’m dead anyway. Might as well go get supplies and see if I can con CostCo into accepting my credit card, too.
She stood on the pedals and maneuvered the awkward rig around stalled cars coasting south on 99W. There were a few people still limping through the dark night. The moon was rising, a crescent waxing toward full, symbol of hope to her people… it glimmered over a city she feared was doomed.
Bicycling was hard. The tandem wasn’t very maneuverable around the mess of wrecks and cars. The moonlight was soft and dim, hiding and twinkling behind growing cloud banks. Moonlight was better than dark and she knew this part of town like the back of her hand. She dug in, occasionally dismounting and pushing the rig uphill. She did do a lot of walking, but not biking and her legs weren’t in shape.
A list in her head grew, building itself around her apocalyptic fears. Her thoughts jumbled and shot off in all directions. Go talk with Rick and Ronnie. Go to CostCo and grab as much food as possible. Harvest is six to eight months away; seed stores? Tomorrow scavenge for food. Drumming circle tomorrow night. What would people be thinking? Get them to cut and run to the countryside. Where can I go? Hood River, that horse farm Kendall and Mirriam bought. They aren't there. I think they’re in Phoenix this week. HoneyApple has crops, sheep, horses, orchards. I can survive there; the caretakers have their own farm, they won’t want this one. It’s fifteen miles down the road; too much time to get there a-foot or a-horse. Go to PDX and pick up Myrtle on Saturday night…
Her brain slammed to an abrupt stop and her howl vanished into the deep silence of the dark, deserted street. Blinded by a sudden wash of tears she squeezed the brakes violently. Myrtle was in California with Jordan, not due back for four more days. Her mourning howl ripped from her throat again and again as she fought her anguish under control. Her daughter, her precious daughter, lost. BD’s chin trembled and her teeth chattered.
Her constant fear that the world would collapse and die; inching towards vindication this dark night, was assaulted by her need to protect her daughter from the coming disaster. Irrationally her plans shot off into the needs a bike trip down I-5 to Vallejo would call for. But her practicality slammed that to a halt also. 600 miles and I can bike maybe 80 miles a day. That’s at least 8 days just to get there; assuming I don’t get assaulted, robbed, killed… Myrtle, Myrtle! she moaned silently. You have got to come home! Acceptance wouldn’t come. Grimly she forced herself to stand on the pedals and get the two bikes moving, grimly she forced her mind away from the idea of her daughter, lost in Vallejo. Grimly she squinted through the tears pouring down her cheeks and kept on pedaling.
Her whole family gone! Vanished like dewdrops in the sun, and she was pedaling a ridiculous jury rigged tandem bike thru a dark night down 99W to con some rice from CostCo with a credit card that was probably no more than a piece of plastic. BD forced herself to focus on the task at hand. There was rice and oats waiting for her at CostCo.
❀ ❁ ❀
I feel like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling, she thought morbidly, leaving Ronnie and Rick’s the next morning. After conceding her points they had reluctantly agreed to pick and pack, and prepare to head out. But they hadn’t been completely convinced. Hanging over their back fence, they had chatted with neighbors. Everyone treated the powerless day as a gift from one of the gods. BD shoved off for Raven’s Hold householding. People wandered down the streets, gangs of children went screeching about on their bikes. They’re all acting like the city is shut down by a natural disaster. A gift holiday from some god. But this isn't going to get better. She pushed on, disheartened. Playing Cassandra wasn’t her favorite role in life.
Flashes of memories from her early years in Mexico, came to her mind through the day. The propane camp stove reminded her of the huge propane tanks delivered to each household. When she flushed the toilet, she blessed Portland’s gravity fed water system. She’d lived with latrines and earth trenches. In a few days, she would be back to that, out on the farm.
There weren’t enough hours in the day. With cars not working only bikes and shank’s mare were left. She avoided the city center when bicycling “heralds” from the mayor and the police chief urged people to stay home. Volunteer crews were recruited. Fire crews worked in Northeast and Southeast, trying to contain fires by ax and water. Police, their ranks depleted by no-shows, had their hands full with crowd control.
By evening BD was ready for the drumming circle. As she wheeled her bike out, she saw one of her neighbors lighting a fire made with broken chairs on his driveway. She watched the old man grab a chair and whack it against the ground. It took many whacks to make small pieces of wood. They were coated with polyurethane. He fed his fire and BD grimaced at the stench.
He wasn’t alone. She saw many people trying to cook on their driveways as she biked along. Barbecues, hibachis, ordinary fires, candles. It took knowledge and practice to use an open fire to boil water. Modern cookware wasn’t designed for that use. Many people were burned and exhausted. Food, she thought as she pedaled on, there is food, but can we prepare it so it is edible and nutritious? The ride west took more than an hour, tired as she was. The silence, a silence she could only remember from very rural Mexico and remote camping sites in the US, lay over the city like a pall. Subconsciously she wanted to twist around, seeking the noisy machines.
Bikes littered Danielle and Justin’s front lawn. The drums pounded as she placed her potluck dolmas on the table. Some people danced frenziedly, others talked intently on the edges of the dance area. Oracles came out after a while and the drums slowed and stilled. Knowledgeable, worried, puzzled people tried to explain the cars and electricity and batteries all dying in one swoop. There were people lost to fires, accidents; one couple to a plane plowing down their street, scattering flaming fuel as it broke.
Here her Chicken Little routine was heard. They were hesitant to accept her conclusions.
“You’re jumping at shadows.”
“You always assume the worst.”
“Give it a few days and everything will be all right. You’ll see.”
“I’ll see what? This isn’t a localized phenomena.”
“How? How can you tell? No phones, no radios, no TV. Are you hooked into the psychic network?”
“Oh, nuts! Listen, if this were localized, why isn’t the National Guard parachuting down to find out what happened when we went off the grid? Where are the jets doing fly-overs; dropping fresh radios with parachutes? Where are the cars and trucks and trains coming in with relief? It’s more than 24 hours now.
“No, this has to be world wide.” BD frowned at her friends. “And it’s the ones who react fastest who might survive. We pagans are used to breaking with conventional thinking. We might survive if we think outside the box, now.” She saw caution on many faces. “What, you think the universal control-alt-delete will just happen? Or maybe you expect Kernunos to push the reset on this?” She throttled back her impatience.
“Crap!” snapped Josh, “You… alarmist; you… Cassandra! It’s just Uncle Sam overstepping himself with a new weapons test! And we’re paying the price. And all that data lost! We’ll be years making good the destroyed drives, the lost hours, the…”
“Shut up, Josh,” BD told him, quietly. Other pagans were shaking their heads. “I haven’t time for conspiracy theories and your funny farm ideas. A technology like that wouldn’t have developed out of nowhere. We would have seen experimental models, heard about small tests, read speculation on how the suppression field worked for decades before something this big was perfected. Think about law enforcement applications using a ‘suppression field’ to stop high speed chases, drug boats, planes… No, if this is a weapon, we’d have seen studies and applications developing for the past ten years.
“Hmmm, here’s a thought. Has anybody tried to use a gun?” she asked suddenly. Wolf Rider reached into his loose shirt and pulled an authoritative gun out. He strode to his bike and unlocked a zipped saddle pack, pulled out ammunition and loaded a clip. BD kept her face straight. She’d known he was “unarmed.” But he was discrete about it. Most pagans had a real problem with guns. “This is a 1911,” said Wolf Rider in his slow deep voice. “I keep it on hand, always. Clear away from there.” He pointed to a patch of recently turned earth by the garage. The silence was grim as he pulled the trigger. “Click,” He frowned and shook the gun and then hit it carefully with the heel of his hand. BD could see his lips move as he counted under his breath to twenty and then ejected the bullet.
Ruben took the bullet from him, holding one of the camp lamps close to it. “The firing pin struck, and it is hot,” Wolf Rider repeated the sequence, seven more times and safed the gun.
“Imagine,” said BD, “how law enforcement and the army would have been all over a device that could generate a no-explosives field.”
BD suddenly found herself wearing a wry grin. About 90% of the people who looked at the scattered shells were seriously anti-gun and anti-violence. Their unhappy faces spoke of a re-evaluation of priorities.
“Cities live on supply lines, and civilized behavior needs the support of a police force.” Justin reached for the damaged shells. “Let’s pull these apart and see if the powder burns.”
The powder burned, sullenly, not a bright little flare. A very thoughtful quiet followed.
Better than twenty people stayed to evacuate to sacred lands west. Others would leave in the next days. Sacred lands were held in the Coastal Ranges, Jefferson, Hag Lake, Forest Grove, three groups in Hood River and a few more groups in Washington State.
Her group would share the farm in Hood River. They’d agreed on a rendezvous and a time. “I don’t have a good feeling about staying. Let’s get going fast. Ten o’clock and go. No waiting. Anyone can’t make the time, just head out to the farm. Somebody will be there, or you’ll be the first and can prepare for the rest.”
She arrived home late and was up before the dawn, her nerves stretched to breaking point. The hour long ride to make the rendezvous loomed before her. Three times she found herself grabbing car keys and purse, thinking she had to pick Myrtle up at PDX. Unable to concentrate enough to pack her tandem, she finally wrote a long note to Myrtle and put it by the door. It’s a long shot. I know I’ll never see her again, but I have to try…
Now she could dress and prepare. She pulled on jeans and a tee-shirt, a turtleneck shirt, and a sweatshirt; the house was cold without electric heat. She wandered into the living room, drinking her tea. It was littered with boxes and books; she’d moved three weeks before. A sharp pang sliced her. She was losing her books, her treasures, her past, her family… a howl fought her; she fought grimly back. Her life was gone in an instant of head tearing pain and light. I’m not gone and I’m going to rebuild; I’ve done it before, I can do it again. She set her jaw and concentrated. What will do me for a weapon? There was her athame, which she would use in good heart for defense, mundane as well as magical. She had a “sword” that might scare somebody off; a small camp ax that had never been sharpened. She had a cross wrench and her staff and a thyrsi, the one a dogwood pole, the other solid laurel wood.
A flash from the window startled her. She moved carefully over to the door as somebody knocked. Peering out the side panes she frowned and opened the door. “Sandy… Norman? Come in. What can I do for you?” And how did you find me? Her gracious hostess manner clashed in her mind with the disaster she could see evolving. Norman and Sandra Arminger smiled and walked in, leaving a cadre of men standing in the street. Norman was wearing an elaborate surcoat she had made for him over chain mail. His face was shadowed by a helm. He removed the helm and lifted the sword from the hangers on his belt. Data cascaded as she waved them to the couch “Water, tea?” she asked; still the gracious hostess. They shook their heads and sat. She straddled a chair and looked at them. Her hair tried to stand on end and her alarms shrieked, “Danger, danger!”
She had not felt so threatened for years. Living in Mexico, she had projected a fierce wolf in the face of danger. Now that cold mask slipped over her face and soul and the wolf was back. “So,” she said, resting her arms along the chair back. “So, are things bad enough on the street to need full armor and live steel?”
Norman leaned back, elaborately relaxed. In spite of her tension BD found herself suppressing a snicker. Chain mail was not a relaxing garment, and full formal 1300’s garb was not meant to be “lounged” around in. It looked most peculiar, even to a SCAdian.
“Things are bad,” he agreed. “Sandra and I think the present government is not going to survive very long.”
“And you are going to…?”
Sandra asked, “What do you think will happen by this time next Tuesday?”
BD cocked an eyebrow, “Food will be in very short supply. The local government will have no answers… and no feasible plans. I think that the world over is exactly like this and we’re screwed.”
Norman’s posed poise fled. He came abruptly upright. “So, you figure that?” BD met his intent eyes with a shrug. Courting Norman’s attention was a short cut for a really unwelcome sexual invitation; had been, she corrected herself. All bets are off, now. She’d avoided catching his attention for years. Her age and her relationship with Sandra had also protected her. Now her alarms went off the scale. She didn’t think a bed invitation was in the offering. There was a danger here she didn’t understand. More than anything, she wanted to tape her letter to Myrtle to the door, load the tandem, and Git!
Instead; project that lone wolf… convince him you are as dangerous as he and Sandra. “Oh, yeah. No trucks, no supplies, no fresh food, no refrigeration… Food riots — fear — panic; starvation in the midst of the richest land in the world.” She shook her head, waiting. Norman had a plan. Their arrival meant she was part of that plan. Instinct and experience both made her doubt her guest’s altruism.
“You won’t starve.”
She smiled; a cold wolf’s smile. “No, I won’t. I’ve been preparing since the night it hit. I’m off. I know a neat little farm whose owners are far, far away.” She watched her visitors, puzzled. Why had they come to her? “So, where are you going?”
Norman shook his head. “Nowhere! Given this opportunity? No, we’re staying here and taking over this city.”
BD’s laugh died stillborn. This is a sociopath. This is a sociopath who is going to take over your city. This is a sociopath seeking you . This is a sociopath you’d better figure out NOW.
Abruptly Sandra asked, “Where’s Myrtle, BD? How’s she doing?”
Data cascaded again. Sandra hadn’t seen Myrtle often, and Norman not at all. They weren’t kid friendly and she’d kept her shy little daughter away from the adult areas of the camps. Damn! Hostages! They came for a hostage to force my hand. She looked past Norman out the window at the cadre and the picture resolved into… Armed men holding frightened civilians hostage.
“Myrtle was… is in California with Jordan. I guess I’ll never see her again. I finished howling about eleven pm.” Her voice was hard. They would not see her grief and pain.
Norman nodded abruptly to his wife, grabbed helm and sword, and left. He joined the group outside. Hostages. BD looked at Sandy. Like my daughter would have been. Say something… “Even for Norm, that’s abrupt…”
Sandy fidgeted. “Well you know, to take over the city, we’ll need people, people who can do things…”
“So, he’s going to set himself up as king? Take over Portland? Kill the mayor and the chief of police soon?” she gybed.
She laughed shortly at Sandra’s start. “Did you think I wouldn’t see? It’s obvious he’d have to. I’ve heard Vera and Moose are keeping a lid on things downtown.”
Sandy nodded. “Katz and the Moose don’t understand the real magnitude of this. They do understand that food doesn’t truck itself in. Most people can’t even cook the food they have! Katz sent bike teams off to Salem and elsewhere, organizing things… they got it quicker than we thought. But they haven’t seen the real scope of the problem.”
“So what’s your plan?” she asked, a faint interest coloring her voice.
“Burn them out, there were fires last night and people on the road this morning.”
“Wasteful,” said BD. “Encourage people to go to Salem and get involved directly in the government. Ten days from now or five, when the food riots start, start a rumor that food is being stockpiled in Salem.
“Much neater and less dead bodies rotting and stinking up Portland proper.” And no people dying in agony and screaming terror, and horror in a holocaust of fire, either.
The Armingers didn’t approached Ricki and Ronnie, or they would have said something yesterday, but… She looked out the window at Norman. Ricki and Ronnie were knights, pure and proud… and gay. They’d never give the time of day to a wolf like Norman Arminger whose name was a hissing and booing in the SCA. And they had no useful hostages. Does “gay” matter? Given Norm, maybe, or maybe he’s cold enough to use homophobia as a control mechanism.
“So, yesterday you recruited fighters; convinced them this is permanent. You can’t take over yet. So you’re filling in time by recruiting lesser needs.” A crack of sardonic laughter broke free from her control. “So! What role do you have for me?”
“It isn’t like that, BD. We’re going to need… people. A lot of people; special people who know the old skills. We got our core of fighters yesterday. Now we are taking the time to make sure support staff is in place. I want your skills, all those skills; modern and archaic, accounting, managerial, soap making, weaving, spinning, leather work, sewing, herbalism; all those things and you’ll be safe…”
In the recesses of her soul she gagged. Serve the Lady Sandra? Be her tire-woman? I don’t think so. I have got to get these two out of here and my butt on the road. How can I shake them? She looked out the window again. There were more civilians than she’d thought; mostly female or children, sitting, looking confused and beaten.
Norman must have fantasized for years about an apocalypse. He’s all set, and nobody else is. How many hostages has he grabbed? If he has this all figured out, then I am in deadly danger right now! ooops!
They’ve said enough I can blab to Katz or Moose and queer their deal. That’s why knights are in my yard. I have no hostage. Double ooops! Now what?
Can I make Sandra believe I want to join them? If Norm exercises that toad sticker of his on me — who will miss me or find me? They can walk away leaving my bloody corpse here and nobody will ever know.
Do I have a choice? Law is out the door and I’m in the middle.
She hid her circling thoughts from Sandra. The cold wolf facade that had served her well growing up in the barrios of Mexico City leached back over her soul. Norman and Sandra had no idea of her interest in historical economics; husbandry, farming, logistics; what it took to maintain a noble in a land as mismanaged and rich as Mexico. Latifundíos; Norman would call them feudal estates. The economics of that system had been the subject of her thesis as well as a life long study.
Arminger saw the fighting barons; statesmanship, ruling, treaties; not the trivia of running an estate, keeping the serfs happily tied to it. Sandra Arminger was a veterinarian, specializing in her beloved horses.
She would not understand the needs of Norman’s peasants. Norman Arminger would be a warrior King like William of Normandy. Might made right and he was going to establish a feudal society in Portland — her Portland!
He would expect things to “work.” People would pay with their lives when they didn’t “work.” All those gangsters he’d had been working with recently and unscrupulous SCAdians flocking to his banner would extort the tithes “somehow.” All the American guarantees of freedom and safety were down the drain. BD focused on the “knights” standing in her yard, nauseated. She didn’t need a lexicon to know what would happen if she didn’t position herself as a valued ally.
She turned from the window. “So, War-Lady, you need support staff, eh?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Yah, but I can do so much more than craft work,” she said helpfully.
“Logistics. I guess Norman will create baronies round Portland, using the Norman England model…”
“It was very successful,” stated Sandra.
“Well, yeah, but it evolved. Making it out of whole cloth in the middle of a world wide disaster is a bird of another feather. We don’t know very much about non-mechanized farming, food preservation and the thousands of crafts needed to keep us going.”
“I’ll bet you both expect to live off the riches of plunder for years and years.”
A surprised look crossed Sandra’s face. “It’s a ticklish logistics problem. Just learning how to farm without machinery is going to be brutal. All our fertilization techniques are chemical. The transition from hoe to tractor is one I know from my work in Mexico. You are going to need that type of expertise rather desperately if you go ahead with your plans.”
Sandra frowned. “What do you think we are planning?”
“Beyond chasing people out of the city? To weaken the farmers and make them vulnerable. Then you can take over easily.”
“So?” asked Sandra. BD shrugged. “Won’t it work?” asked Sandra, anger coloring her voice.
Easy, thought BD, you’ve got her hooked, now. Reel her in. “Some, yeah, but there are a lot of mistakes to make. Truth to tell, being your craft-woman doesn’t sound very interesting. I’m trying to show you a weakness I can fix. Offer me something better; I’ll make a good seneschal. I’m interested in the piddling little details and I’m good at them.
“Norman gets his barons; gang-members from that book of his, and SCAdians to back your coup, fighting them as your private army. You’ll ‘reward’ them with lands in Valley and set up baronies. The baronies produce food and goods and tithe to you.”
Sandra nodded. “That’s right!”
“How good do you think a Russian crime ‘Lord’ is at knowing planting schedules, crops, land, a good balance between herd animals and vegetables and keeping their peasantry in line?”
“The farmers know that; all we need to do is tell them what we want.”
BD shook her head. “Not when irrigation is gone; farm machinery doesn’t work; farm animals are needed and seed grain has to be kept back. Modern farmers can learn. But farms don’t have truck gardens, several crops, and three or four types of animals anymore. Most farms in the Willamette grow grass seed. They shop at the grocery store like everybody else.
“They will need to read and experiment. It’s going to take years for the land yield well. Farmers need to learn old ways; use tenants and serfs.”
She watched Sandra turn it over in her head.
“If you and Norman researched land yields, you…”
Sandra interrupted. “We did that right off. We can keep up to 10 or 20 thousand people fed just from around here like a 20 mile radius.”
“You can’t,” stated BD, “Land yields will go down to less than half the first years.” The door opened behind her.
“Can’t what?” asked Norman, his voice angry and raspy. “What’s the hold up, Sandra?” He leered at BD, “Say ‘Yes,’ little girl, or the big bad wolves will eat you…”
BD projected her wolf. Norman hesitated and looked at Sandra. “What’s going on?” he growled. BD flipped her hand at Sandra and dug into the boxes of books, lining up titles as Sandra explained to Norman.
“So show me logistics?” She presented the books to him. He raised a brow as he read the titles, a good many of them slowly, as they were in spanish. Her stomach was clenched badly enough she was afraid she’d have an attack of the cramps that plagued her. She kept her eyes steady and cold and her body relaxed.
“You bought this for what class?”
“I’m a history/sociology/economics buff, Norman. These,” she waved a hand, “are for my own interest. I try to keep them catholic.” Norman started a little and suddenly another alarm went off. I’m glad I haven't unpacked my temple, she thought. Quietly she bid goodbye to the friends who had taken off to Hood River an hour before.
“It’s going to get ugly. Not many will survive and those that do may not have the skills we need… the support skills; tanner, soap boiler, candle maker, spinner, weaver, sheep herder. Thousands and thousands of skills and professions, just lost. And without order, so many resource will be wasted in senseless looting, the resources of one little city…”
“Skills,” said Norman slowly. “I’ve been thinking of the people I need to take over and insure the survival of as many as possible.”
“It’s logical you would. You are a warrior and you see a disaster. You focus on the next step. I’m a planner, a hoarder, a logistician; a scavenger. I look ahead, see what will be needed later. It’s easy to panic, and it leaves us vulnerable.”
Norman tapped his fingers on his sword hilt. His eyes were blank. BD fought her tense muscles. Will he accept? Do I live? And at what cost have I bought my freedom? Then he nodded. “Right! Supplies are your area, Sandra. You want her, you got her.” BD nodded her head towards Sandra’s dark eyes in a gesture close to a bow.
“Wait,” said BD as Norman turned to go. “You are taking hostages.”
“Give them to me. I can explain the advantages, but trust me. If your involuntary recruits know that their nearest and dearest are not in ‘prison’ at the mercy of guards, but instead in ‘my craft village,’ and they can visit, they’ll still know they are hostages, but they can tell themselves they are safe and fool themselves into believing they have good reasons to support you.”
Norman and Sandra nodded. Then Norman turned away. “I’ll use the ‘Go to Salem to protest’ gig to get people started out as soon as possible; we don’t have much time.” He walked out.
“Well, m’lady Sandra, what’s on the agenda for me?” The words stuck in her throat and she forced them out. Beholden to the swinging Arminger's… oh, Goddess!
“On my agenda, I’m getting on the whole horse thing. Guess what it will take to train Norman’s gang leaders and followers to be knights?”
BD smiled. “I do ride. Not much recently, but enough.” She snorted sourly. “My sympathies.”
Sandra shrugged. “I’m keeping the hostages in an abandoned warehouse by 217. You take charge of them. The ones we collected today are here. I’m taking two guards; you keep three. They’ll be on 8, off 16, but around.”
“So I house in that abandoned building store up by 217 and 8?”
“Won’t there be trouble?”
“What kind of trouble? There’s nothing there for anybody to go to. It’s deserted, warehouses, hardware… and the guards will be inside with the hostages.”
“That won’t last.”
“Well, the city won’t last. I’ll be organizing fires tomorrow to get people moving out.”
“Don’t do fires… find the organizers and the crack pots… get them to start marches to Salem for explanations and demands for food… that will empty out Portland a lot faster without having people burned and in agony. People’s memories for atrocities are very long.”
Sandra nodded. “That’s a good point; we certainly don’t lack a lunatic fringe that can be used.”
“Good, now that warehouse isn’t going to be much good as a hostage center, long term. Where are you and Norman planning to base yourselves?”
“Around the library. From 405 to the Willamette for now. Where do you think you should be? There are a lot of apartment houses nearby.”
“True, but, no… most crafts are actually pretty stinky. For now, Multnomah village would do. It’s built in a nice centralized style and there is the old highway, 99W connecting it to downtown. Later we’ll have to decide where to concentrate ‘trades’ people.”
“Right,” said Sandra crisply. “Give me a list of people you think we can use; people with useful skills.”
“Ah!” There is no more law and the Armingers only gave lip service to the laws anyway. So I get to create a list of useful people to be kidnapped and hostaged. Urk!
Her eyes were level and calm as she looked at the petite woman before her. “I’ll get the lists together. Want to leave a messenger with me? Will you have trouble with the Portland city government? I calculate Portland could live a few weeks more before starvation really hits.”
Sandra shook her head. “The greater metro area will take time to empty out. But… I’ll start the rumor mills. The faster people head south - or north - or east, the better.”
Sandra sighed. “I also have to figure out our caloric needs for the next…”
“No, you just appointed me Seneschal. I have to figure out the calories. I know where the distribution warehouses are.” BD hastily scrawled names and addresses on a piece of paper. “Now, these are bicyclers I know. Actually, anybody with a bike will do. With bicycle driven carts I can start moving food into more secure quarters.”
BD slung her jacket on and waved Sandra out the door. She split the guards leaving three with her. BD read the ‘pandilleros.’ She didn’t waste time being civilized. In succinct spanish she promised them castration if they touched any of the hostages. She projected her wolf who accepted no rules but her own at them. They glanced at Sandra who nodded and accepted her authority.
“I’ll need a switchblade or three. I have a ‘sword;’ you know one of those things we hang on walls? I’m much better with street weapons.”
“Norm can get you those. Get me what I need. I’ll get you those bike gangs.”
BD looked at her watch. It was useless to think of her missed rendezvous; she had just committed to staying in range of one of the worst sociopaths she knew, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t die on Norman Arminger’s sword, or be forced into sexual slavery. And the hope of a free future she could fight to make happen.
The watch wasn’t working. Ignoring her “honor” guard, she dug out an Edwardian nurse’s watch out of her garb box. With three ‘pandilleros’ slinking at her heels she took “her” hostages on the 8 mile hike to the abandoned store.
❀ ❁ ❀
1810 hours 17 March, 1998. (Change Year)
Toll House Hotel, Room 217, Los Gatos, California.
Theo looked up from his laptop distracted from the e-mails chasing him from New Hampshire to Los Gatos by CNN. New England seemed very far away. He sighed; glad as he was to visit his grandparents, he hated living in a hotel room.
The TV caught his attention, talking about a bizarre event in Nantucket. A dome of fire over Nantucket? I hope it doesn’t screw up my return tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see it from the air! Nah! Air traffic will reroute everybody.
Sudden pain hit him; a migraine as powerful as anything he’d ever felt and he was blinded by white light. He gripped the laptop, panting. Then he could see again and the pain was gone. The lights were out, his laptop dark, and the TV screen fading.
Frowning, Theo got up and stepped over the cables connecting his laptop to power and internet. His second story hotel room faced north and had a good view of Silicon Valley. It was quiet under the late evening sunset. A thick column of smoke climbed over downtown San Jose. Is it a power station fire? Something blew; did it cause that light flare?
He turned left, his eyes caught by something “wrong.” Cold chills raced down his spine as a 737 came diving out of the sky, desperately fighting gravity’s pull. Gravity won and the plane smashed its way through Campbell. Theo shuddered gripping the bannister. Twenty years ago, in Tucson, he’d witnessed an A-7 jet fighter auger into a street near the University. Silence… there had been silence in the moments before the crash both times and a feeling of complete helplessness…
Twenty years ago the pilot ejected and parachuted. But 737’s don’t have ejection seats. 100 people in the plane, more on the streets of Campbell; a sudden vision of the interior of the craft shook him. Faintly, on the evening breeze, sounds of metal screeching and bending, of walls collapsing and cars thrown drifted to him. Theo turned to rush downstairs, grab his car and offer his help, his hands… his blood.
Even as he moved to the door he thought… Aw, shit… I hope they don’t close down the airport… my flight’s at 0600.” He flushed guiltily. A hundred dead and I’m worrying about getting home? He turned to shut the balcony door and paused. The smoke plume in Campbell looked like the one over downtown San Jose. He scanned the valley.
There were more plumes, a lot. And there was no noise, or rather, not the noise he expected. There were no flashing lights, no rescue vehicles racing down the roads, no sirens. The cars on the street were stalled; scattered out of their lanes and crashed. People wandered from car to car or huddled under the hoods, or walked away, hands full of bags.
Theo opened his door. The corridor was dark, the emergency lights weren’t on. Don’t try the elevator… he thought grimly. Not a good option. Lessee… the stairs were right next to my room, on the left; I can feel my way down. He walked forward, his left hand against the wall. The stairwell was as dark as the corridor. He made his way down and pushed open the heavy fireproof door onto the lobby. Light came in through the street windows. It was crowded with guests,the noise level rising steadily.
One clerk stood by the desk clicking a flashlight “on.” Nothing happened yet he kept clicking like a robot stuck in a logic loop. The other clerk clicked at a walkie/talkie unit. A couple broke the cycle. “Our room phone doesn’t work.”
The clerk pushed the house phone over. Theo looked around at the confused, jabbering crowd. The sound of smashing plastic jerked his attention back to the desk. “Dead, it’s dead! And so is our cell phone! What do we do now? We’re late and can’t even call!” The hysteria grated on Theo’s nerves. The raw fear frightened him.
The woman shrilled at her partner. Theo winced and froze. Cars not working, power out, phones not working; not cell phones, not land lines… he shuddered; all that smoke, downed planes? All those planes in the air, all falling? If all the engines failed emergency workers can’t get to the injured; no way for them to be called from their homes, to their posts. How many people will die?
What happened? EMP?
It doesn’t fit.
EMP could blow away power lines, delicate electronics, my laptop, the walkie/talkies, but not the emergency lights; they use batteries. Fires! Fires are going to spread, and fast! Water’s power pumped around here! Shit, shit, shit, the Grands! I’ve got to get them to safety! Where is safe? He swallowed, suddenly realizing he was panicking, his head pounding.
He glanced at his watch; it was a battery operated digital and as dead as the lights. Dodging people on the way out of the lobby he focused on putting his best foot forward. A childhood and teen years tramping around Mexico City made his best foot pretty good. In 10 minutes he walked into the Assisted Living center.
The short walk disturbed him. People stood dazedly by dead cars, looking confused and helpless. Some pushed them to the side of the road. He only saw a few accidents.
The Assisted living center was not quiet. 150 very senior citizens communicating their displeasure meant a lot of people yelling. Hearing aids must be affected by the battery problem.
Theo pushed into the noisy dinning room. In the growing gloom of the evening he found Deb and Ted finishing their dinner. “I’m glad I found you. Panicking all over the place, aren’t they?” The habits of a lifetime made him speak calmly. Ted cupped his ear and shouted something.
He shook his head and pointed to the patio doors. Gladly his grandparents stood up and followed him out. “Ted, I’ve got to get you out of here. A plane came down in Campbell and more out in the valley. Power is out and cars aren’t working.”
“A plane! As in crashed? What is going on, Theo, dear?” asked his grandmother.
“No idea, Deb. The power just went out all of a sudden. Did you see the flash?” They nodded and Deb pinched the bridge of her nose. “Then I saw the plane crash and smoke rising over San Jose, like the smoke from the plane.” Ted was a surgeon, Deb an RN; they winced. “Cars aren’t working, fire trucks, ambulances, patrol cars…”
Deb looked worried. “Theo, what should we do?”
“Well, you can’t get up and down three flights of stairs with your bad leg. I’d say we should go land on Cousin Charlie. He knows the valley and can help us.
“The thing is, how to get you there, Deb? If you can’t climb three stories of stairs, you for sure can’t walk five miles to Cousin Charlie’s.”
Ted shook his head, “Why? Who? Who would do something like this?”
“A weapon?” asked Theo, distracted. “I hadn’t thought of that. But what a range it must have… I swear I could see all the way across the bay to smoke over Fremont.”
“Fremont? Vallejo! Myrtle!”
“Myrtle? What about her?”
“She’s visiting Jordan this week. She’s going back to Oregon in a few days. We’ve been calling her every day because she has to stay alone during the day. Jordan just moved to Vallejo and he couldn’t find child care or a day camp for her. But; Ted, today was the day Jordan went to LA, isn’t it?”
“Don’t know, Deb. You talk with her more than I do. But he was going to LA for a day this week.”
Theo gasped. His sister had adopted a painfully shy child a few years back. Her marriage had broken apart within months of the adoption. The last year had been ugly for the girl as her parents fought for custody. Now his niece was at risk, terrible risk if he was right about the planes coming down. Had Jordan been flying back, or was he already back?
“Do you know the address?”
“Yes, Theo, it’s right on the pad by the phone. I told you, we call her every day.” Theo gnawed his lip, torn. Ted solved the dilemma for him. “Look, Theo, go up to our place and get a few things… our medications, our jackets, and the address. Bring down the sofa cushions. I’ll get the maps out of my car. Your aunt leaves it here so she can use it to run us around the valley. Deb,” he turned to his wife, “go talk to Luke, ask him if he’ll lend us his basket bike and Nancy’s bike.
“I think he will; he hasn’t used them since Nancy died. I can use Nancy’s bike and hold onto the basket if Theo pedals and you sit in the basket.
“Theo, look in my desk drawer…” Ted explained what he wanted. Cash, some medical supplies and instruments, and a few small bags.
“Ted,” said Theo, hesitating as he read his grandfather’s intentions. The old man shook his head.
“Be practical, grandson. Get us over to Deb’s cousin Charlie. He’s a firefighter. He’ll know what to do. If Jordan is in LA, then Myrtle is all alone. You’ve got to bring her back.”
Ted was right; Theo surrendered to his stern practicality. Deb went to talk to a wizened dwarf of a man; Ted to his car, and Theo upstairs.
The evening was now night. Theo found a box of matches in the kitchen and lit some candles. He found the address and phone number for Jordan; found his sister’s new address next to it and cursed himself. I forgot BD just moved, too. I’d better keep this. He got coats and meds and poked through Ted’s desk.
The five miles to the 1950’s cul-de-sac where cousin Charlie lived took all his grandfather’s fading energy and determination. “Sure you can make it, Ted?” asked Theo, wondering if he could make it with his grandmother’s weight in the awkward basket tricycle.
Ted’s face was livid and his breath was whooping and sobbing as they coasted down the gentle slope to the bottom of the street. Cousin Jane’s distinctive tones rang over the people gathered in the front yard. “For heaven’s sake, Charlie! Charlie! It’s Deb and Ted! Charlie, and it’s Theo, too!” People spread out, grabbing the bikes, helping Deb out of the basket, catching Ted, racing for water. Theo gasped. I’m in decent physical condition, but Deb still weighs about 200 pounds and that trike is heavy, not to mention dragging Ted, too. He crouched and stood and crouched again, working the kinks out of his trembling legs. Damn! I’m glad Cousin Charlie lives this close and not in the hills.
He stood to find Charlie offering a pitcher of water. “Go easy. You don’t want to hurt yourself. Why’d you bring them here?”
Theo gulped a large mouthful of water and handed the pitcher back and cupped his hands. Charlie poured water in them and he sleeked it over his head and down the back of his neck. He splashed the next handful over his face and front. “Things are bad, Charlie.” He glanced up. Deb and Ted were being cared for by the neighbors; Jane fluttered around offering suggestions. Theo lowered his voice. “Planes fell out of the sky; stalled. No batteries, no power.”
“I knew cars weren’t working, but planes, too? Explosions!”
“Charlie, I think it’s going to get a lot worse. The residence where Deb and Ted live… three floors up, no light, no water, think what it will be like tomorrow.”
Charlie thought. They listened as the neighbors traded theories. The big debate was whether it was an American secret weapon test gone wrong or a foreign power weapon gone right. The lesser debate was which foreign power might have pulled it off. Charlie shook his head decisively. “This suppression effect is not EMP, right?”
“Unlikely; flashlights don’t work. I’ll bet that old jalopy you work on doesn’t go, either.”
Charlie nodded. Ted finally stood up, listing to one side. “I’ll take care of them, sure. There’s that stream behind the back fence; we can still get water and flush the toilets. What about you?”
Theo sighed. “Can you give me a map? We think BD’s kid, Myrtle, is alone in Vallejo; Jordan might be in LA. I’ve got to go get her. I hope you’ve got a good bike I can use to get to Vallejo. It’s a day long trip. So much for a four ack emma to the airport.”
“Theo, if planes fell out of the sky, no plane will leave tomorrow. They’re all crashed.”
“Oh.” Theo sighed; he’d lost track of that little detail.
“I’ve got Rodney’s old bike. It’s a wide tired commuter.”
Theo admired Charlie’s crowd control techniques. Expressing concern over Ted and Deb, he got them in the house, the neighbors to their houses, Jane setting up beds instead of fluttering about, and a planning discussion with maps going quickly. “I think a straight up the center ride to Vallejo will be best. When you find Myrtle and maybe Jordan, come back. I’ll expect you by the 20th; the 21st at the latest. If you don’t come, we’ll know you took her to Oregon, instead.”
Theo studied the San Francisco Bay… he’d head towards the lower edge and bike around it and up to Vallejo, just south of Oakland. Myrtle’s address was only a few blocks from the marinas.
“I’ll sleep in the hotel. If this crazy ‘suppression effect’ is still going tomorrow morning, I’ll go directly to Jordan’s and get Myrtle.” Theo kissed his grandmother goodbye and hugged his grandfather and tears fell.
“What is it, Theo?” his grandmother asked.
“It’s…” he hesitated. “I’m frightened, Deb. I don’t know what’s happening, if I’ll see you again, what I’ll meet tomorrow. Yesterday, I knew how the world worked. Today I don’t, and I’m scared.”
He hugged her, sniffing. His grandfather saw him to the door and put a wallet in his hand. Startled, Theo opened it. It was stuffed with, he riffled through it quickly, almost a thousand dollars. He shook his head, but Charlie and Ted pushed him through the door. “I have another one, Theo. Deb and I always keep disaster money. You’ll need it. Get Myrtle. Come back or go to BD in Oregon. Sure, she’s a flaky hippie, but everybody knows her. She’s got a chance of surviving this. Your mother always says she lands on her feet like a cat.”
Theo snorted, though it was more true than not. He wiped tears from his eyes and looked over the bike Charlie held. It was a sturdy older model with saddle bags; distended saddle bags. His fussy cousin Jane had fussed two 2-liter bottles of water into the bags, sandwiches, trail bars and trail mix.
“I hate to ask, but would you have a crowbar? If things are as bad as I think,” he found a rictus of a smile on his face. “I want something pretty ugly looking. Pity all my guns are at home.”
“They don’t work,” said Charlie briefly, turning and rummaging through a cabinet. “I can give you something better. Here!”
Theo opened his mouth to ask about the guns and shut it; it was just one more weirdness. What his cousin held was another. “What is that?” he asked in disbelief.
“It’s a Halligan bar. Firefighters use it for anything and everything. Basically it’s our breaking and entering tool.”
It had a pronged end. The other looked like a cross between an ice pick and a mattock. It also had serious weight and the feeling of solid craftsmanship. It filled his need for an intimidating weapon. Theo hefted the odd instrument. “Well, I’ll go get some sleep and head out tomorrow morning.”
He fought the impulse to turn and wave as he pedaled up the street. The crescent moon gave enough light to see his way. The quiet was eerie and the sky glowed from the fires.
❀ ❁ ❀
Only the clerks were in the lobby at the hotel. Escorted by one,Theo hefted his bike up the stairs by candlelight. The clerk opened his door, but took the candle away… “fire regulations, man!”
Theo shrugged; with fire spreading through Campbell, he wasn’t interested in starting one in the hotel. There was light from the moon. Not much, but enough. He packed his laptop away, coiling up the cables and tucking everything into its carry-on bag. He decided to wear his digital watch, though he had no idea if it would ever work again. Next he found his little hoard of gold and platinum coins. He tucked them by the billfolds in his pockets. He shuddered and realized he was in shock. Damn! I thought that only happened in stories. Psychologically induced shock! He shuddered again and frowned. Blankets; get warm I think. I wonder if I should or shouldn’t go to sleep. Maybe not sleeping is for head injuries. After thinking, he shrugged. He couldn’t read in the dark; he was sleepy and he had done a lot of work in the past hours. He decided to sleep. He rolled himself into a huddle under the blankets and was out. He woke again and again through the night. As he’d grown older he’d slept less well, but this was sheer nerves. Finally he went to the balcony and studied the stars. It was close to five, he decided, not far from nautical dawn; he could just make out the horizon where the Campbell fires weren’t staining the sky orange. Suddenly, a practical application for a modern hobby of astronomy, he thought sourly.
He pulled his luggage over to the balcony doors. Shorts and a t-shirt seemed good for an 80 mile bike ride even in March. Using bottled water he had a washcloth bath. Fresh clothes and fresh water helped dispel his gloomy thoughts. He sorted his clothes; long pants and a warm shirt went in the bottom of his backpack, spare t-shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, and his wind-breaker and two books on top. He munched on Cousin Jane’s thick sandwiches for breakfast and finished off the bottled water in the room.
Reluctantly he packed his computer and papers from his work in his now partly empty suitcase. He couldn’t take them, but leaving them was hard. He counted his money; almost $700. Then there was his grandfather’s billfold… he fought the impulse to bike over to Cousin Charlie’s to check on them. Where can I put the money? I’d better split it up in case something happens. He improvised a traveling wallet around his waist and stuffed the precious metal coins into the long legged slacks. The empty water bottles went into his saddle bags. Fill them as soon as possible. The water wasn’t on in his room.
A bike, two saddle bags, a backpack and a large suitcase created logistic problems. He arrived at the front desk sweating and frazzled. The hotel computer didn’t work, but they had his credit card on file. They gladly wrote a bill he signed. His luggage and computer were stored.
Back in the lobby, Theo saw a forlorn attempt at setting out the customary “continental breakfast.” He thirstily drank several glasses of orange juice that hadn’t quite gone warm yet. Nobody said anything about the bicycle behind his chair. The faucet dribbled a trickle of water and Theo filled his empty bottles, took two slightly stale bagels and a box of oat-o’s and stuffed them in a saddle bag. He wheeled the bike out; passing reception he laid the Hertz keys on the desk. “Can you get these to Hertz at some point? The car is in the parking lot.”
“Sure, man, sure. I hope you had a good stay. Is there anything more I can do?” Theo stared at the young man who suddenly gasped. “I’m sorry, it’s such a habit. They drill us. I can’t go home, my relief hasn’t come. He comes on the bus… do you think?” the clerk hesitated. Theo shook his head sadly.
“I don’t know, I just don’t know what to do,” muttered the clerk. Theo quickly scrawled a note with his decision to go to Vallejo for Myrtle and bring her back to Cousin Charlie’s house. He put his name on the envelope the clerk gave him. “Anybody comes looking for me, give them this, ok?” The clerk nodded and Theo slid a twenty across the counter. He felt incomplete as he turned away. He’d never believed in God and he didn’t now, but he felt a need to say something in the realms of “God Bless” to the clerk.
❀ ❁ ❀
The sun was glowing below the horizon as he walked out of the hotel. He swung his leg over the bike, got his balance and pushed off. The few blocks to the on ramp at Lark stretched his muscles and made him aware that gym exercise never equaled good honest labor and he had exercised heavily only a few hours before. As he coasted down the on ramp of highway 17 he saw the perennial sign on all American highways, “No Bikes or Pedestrians.” I doubt the CHiPs will flag me down today. Dawn struggled to pierce the smoky overcast. The air was crisp and stank of chemical burns. Cars were piled haphazardly along the highway. Theo threaded his way between them, glad he wasn’t riding the heavy delivery bike.
Faces appeared at the windows of some of the cars. I guess some people spent the night in their cars. Not having answers or wanting company, and wary of strangers, he pedaled hard, speeding enough to avoid being hailed.
As he swung around a car he remembered the blizzard of ‘78 that had paralyzed the Boston area. People stayed with their cars then, too. he thought, swerving around a pile up. Until they started to freeze and walked to the nearest houses and asked for refuge. Weather’s milder here, about 50 or 60 degrees last night. I wonder what these people will do? They might be as much as 60 or 70 miles from their homes. That’s a two day walk.
Biking past Campbell shook him. The highway soared and he saw the damaged buildings and streets, the wrecked plane and the sullen fires. He was thankful he couldn’t see details in the dawning light.
The sun was up by the time he passed San Jose airport, merging onto 880. The cold early morning light was stark and pitiless. Theo stopped to take a breather and a sip of his precious water. Even burn marks, smoldering in a line. The planes were lined up, maintaining horizontal separation. Smoke wisps drifted over the field; each burnt smear, smoke plume and tangle of metal marking a charnel house. The port buildings were torn, twisted and burned, a cenotaph of centuries of human lives. All the planes came down, all of them. All over. I don’t think I’ll be returning to New Hampshire anytime soon. Not on a jet plane, at least. He shuddered, feeling sick. At the far end of the field four planes were lined up. The inflatable slides were out and the hatches, even the baggage bays were open. The living were long gone.
I wonder if Jordan was in the air or in an airport when this thing hit.
He pushed off again, figuring the distances in his head to bike home. Why do I want to get home so badly? I just do! Home! The sun was up in full earnest, the far away hills, still green from the winter rains were covered with the usual mist and smog. More people were on the highway. Some got out of cars where they had slept, others came from the on ramps. Theo felt a prickle of apprehension. He slung the Halligan bar over the handlebars on the front basket and “got busy.” Pushing himself he pedaled hard and kept his eyes focused forward, looking like he had places to go and things to do.
As the wheels ate the miles he worried about what had happened. He saw no dead bodies; he was carefully “not-looking.” The big rigs, which appeared to have locked brakes and skidded, often had cars or pieces of cars caught under them. Twice clearer patches of highway centered around a CHiP car, but the officers were long gone.
Biking up onto Hwy. 237 the road cleared up a bit; fewer cars, but more damage. The faster movement at the moment the… “change” happened showed in high speed collisions. Theo pedaled; it was tedious. He counted miles as they slowly went by. He clocked around 10 or 12 miles an hour. Riding through South San Jose he saw men on the highway, more together than he’d seen in a while. They’re smashing into the cars! Theo hesitated, coasting; they spread out to block him. Stopping seems like a really bad idea! He hefted the Halligan bar in his right hand, his left steering and pedaled hard.
For a heart stopping moment he thought they would jump him; he upped his speed one more notch and they scattered. As he rode through knives flashed, then he was past. He didn’t look back. I nearly got mugged! he thought incredulously. Damn! I’m glad I didn’t notice the knives! I might not have had the guts to do that! I’d better stay alert! He took the Mission Blvd. exit and the wide city streets at a good clip towards the 680 on ramp through Fremont.
He thought it was between eight and nine in the morning. Other bicyclists were on the road. Newly wary, Theo studied one laboring near him.
“Hi,” he gasped. “Not used to commuting on my bike. It’s too far for a regular thing.”
“Yup,” said Theo. “I’m heading towards Vallejo.”
“I’m Jack. I’m going to Walnut Creek.”
“Theo.” They began to keep station on each other.
Shortly another bicyclist paralleled them. “I’m Arnie,” he said, introducing himself.
“Theo.” Theo glanced askance at Arnie’s bike. It was loaded with packs and bags and so was Arnie. “You look like you’re going somewhere.”
“Out of here, man! This is crazy, f*d!”
“You a survivalist?” asked Jack.
I’d never ask that question outright.
Arnie shrugged. “Not really. But I know a thing or two, so I got everything I had. I’m going to get out past Napa and find a place to hole up until this goes away.”
“I biked past a bunch of guys earlier, smashing car windows,” said Theo. “They tried to block the highway and wave me down. I freaked and pulled my Halligan bar and raced at them. The bar must have scared them, because they let me through. I didn’t see their knives until I went past.”
“Might not have been the bar… you look pretty scary; big, bearded and upset.”
“Huh!” Theo thought about it. A girlfriend once told him he intimidated people. He didn’t think of himself in terms of his 6’2” 230 pound frame, or his wild beard. They pedaled up the 680 on ramp together.
“Scary, dude, scary,” groused Arnie. “I would’a brought my guns, but the powder’s f*d.”
Theo shook his head. “My cousin said firearms don’t work. I haven’t had a chance to check.”
“You got guns?”
“Not here. I’m from the East Coast.”
“Man!” said Jack. “You’re stranded here?”
“Yeah. It’s not that bad. I’ve got family here; in Vallejo.”
With small talk and hard pedaling they made good time. People faded back from them. What a difference one day makes in people’s reactions. The bad guys aren’t bothering us, but I can see them. Theo was curious why Arnie had tried to shoot. I really don’t want to know, he decided.
By 10 or 11 in the morning, they were approaching Danville. Jack slowed. “Let’s stop. I’m thirsty and I know a store where we can get stuff. There might be real food, too.”
Theo was hot and sticky; sweat crusted his shirt and was dried around his collar. “Good idea, I’m really tired. And I’m in pretty good shape.”
“When’d you start?” asked Arnie.
“Today? Before six, I think. I biked by San Jose Airport around sunup. That was ugly.”
“Why?” asked Jack.
They coasted off the highway as Theo described the 737 falling out of the sky in Campbell. Arnie whistled and Jack groaned. They pulled up in front of the store. As Jack predicted, it was open. The owner looked up from the deep freezer.
“Ah, Jack, you are trying to get to work even if the world will not cooperate!” he said. “Good, help me! Eat some of this before it goes bad!”
Theo picked up a pint of Cherry Garcia. “60 miles, give or take gives me an excuse.” He dug into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.
“Forget it,” growled the owner. “It will all spoil anyway. Eat, and take anything you can use.”
Theo bit his lip. Well, yeah, but… I’ve got the money and he’ll need it to come back from this suppression effect. He picked up two large bags of potato chips, three sandwiches from the cooler, a few yogurts, cookies and some bottles of pop and as many bottles of drinking water as he could fit into his backpack. He insisted on paying, making the owner’s eyes pop as he ran the tab up in his head and added on the taxes.
“Shucks, man,” laughed Jack. “Do that for me!” Theo ran the numbers and Arnie, after a small hesitation, also paid. Theo grimaced as he hefted his backpack. For all the extra weight he wanted the water. Easy clean water is something the twentieth century brought us. Today it isn’t everywhere. Theo felt a crawling ripple down his back as he thought of the water people had drunk in the poorer parts of Mexico; things he had seen growing up there.
The others followed him out. He asked Jack, “Where are you going from here?”
“To the Kaiser Foundation; I’m a nurse. I’m…” Jack tilted his head back and studied the sun, “probably about three hours late. The nurse I relieve can’t leave until I get there.”
Theo found himself with nothing to say. Damn! He’s focused on responsibility!
As they rode back to the highway Theo noticed people treating the day as a holiday. They didn’t seem to be worried. They set up their barbecues, gossiped over fences; the kids ran wild. On the highway headed north three more men joined them. Jack turned off at Walnut Creek.
This section of the road was crowded with crashed vehicles. The small group needed to ride on the shoulder and dodge around wrecks. Theo kept a wary eye out for gangs. By noon, he could be properly said to be part of a gang; four more men had joined them.
What would I have done? Would I have sat around at Cousin Charlie’s gossiping and waiting for Daddy government to fix things? He asked the question aloud.
“Well,” asked Rich, one of the new bikers. “Would you have sat on your tush and jawed at your hotel?”
“No, I’d have gone to get my grandparents, taken them to Cousin Charlie’s and stayed there.”
“What if you hadn’t seen those planes come down?”
Theo pondered. What would I have done if it seemed a simple black out? “I’d probably have gone to my grandparents, anyway. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything at the hotel, and I’d have worried about them.
“What about you?”
Speculation on what they would have done if they hadn’t seen enough failures to trigger alarms lasted them through Martinez to the bridge. Theo sighed as he saw it. The pile up was gruesome. He looked at the sun. “I’m tired,” he said. “It must be two-ish. I’ve biked something like 80 miles today. I’m not going to tackle that mess until I’ve had lunch and stretched.”
Arnie agreed. “If there was a better way up 680, I’d take it. Look at that! You going up 680?”
“Nope, I meet my party in Vallejo. What about the rest of you?”
Theo pulled up as he spoke. He rummaged for the sandwiches he’d gotten in Danville. The others followed his lead and they munched in companionable silence.
“I’ll go up 780 with you,” volunteered one of the others. “I was thinking of taking 29 to Napa; that way you won’t be alone.”
Theo bit his tongue instead of blurting “No!” I don’t know this man, he thought with a frisson of concern. The sudden latching on to his tail set off his alarms. Before he could decide, Arnie took the matter out of his hands.
“Theo, you should come with us, and you too, Mitch. Once these bozos get it through their heads that things are serious… this will be hell. Theo, if you go up 780, you’re going to pass houses for miles and miles along the coast. Come up 680 with us; we’ll take 123 and be in empty country.”
Theo thought quickly. “There’s a lot in what you say, Arnie…”
“Yeah, there is!” exclaimed Mitch, “OK, we’re with you, Arnie! Right, Theo?”
“Ahhh,” Theo hesitated, looking at the bridge. “I’ll make up my mind on the other side. Just getting over this is going to take all of us.”
It did. For the first time Theo saw dead bodies; bled out and wrung into pieces by metal stresses, smashed, smeared. I thought I had a good grip on reality; that I’m not squeamish, he reflected as he hauled a white and trembling Mitch up and over a twisted mess that included a semi with two trailers, two SUV’s and some sort of van. I wish I’d brought rope. I hope I can keep my lunch. The crows and seagulls feasting on the remains got to him more than the smell of death. I knew it was bad when I saw that plane take a nose dive, but the reality is worse.
Focus on the next obstacle! Three times they wheeled their bikes on top of the barrier; a delicate operation that nearly cost two bikes. By the sun, Theo judged it was close to four when they got off the bridge and on to the exchange.
Sure that Mitch would stick with Arnie and the others, Theo mounted up and waved goodbye. Weird, he reflected. I really don’t want Mitch with me. Something about that guy… but I miss Arnie and the others. I feel vulnerable. Humph, I’d’ve figured Arnie for being more dangerous than Mitch, but my gut doesn’t agree. Theo pulled the Halligan Bar out of the pack and rested it on the front basket, in easy reach.
As the shadows lengthened less people were out. He rode past Benicia state park, concentrating on his tired legs; keeping a steady rhythm. To the south, filthy black smoke coated the sky. Must be the Union Oil Refinery. Humph, if Jordan was there, not in LA, he’d have had to come around by Hercules, down Hwy. 4 and then up the way I came through Martinez… He shook his head, A Herculean task, indeed, and Jordan’s no athlete. I’m glad I didn’t decide to come through Oakland.
An hour later, 780 turned into Curtola. He stopped at a park with a pond. Stripping off his shirt and rinsing it in the dubious water was a relief. He scrubbed the stickiness off his chest and thighs, wishing he could dive in. But geese waddled about. Getting some bird-borne disease wasn’t on his agenda. Getting rid of the salt and sweat felt good. He combed his hair and changed his shirt. The wet shirt went over his saddlebags. He hoped he didn’t look too thuggish… he’d rather not scare Myrtle. It’s been a day since the suppression effect hit. I hope she holed up and played ‘possum all day.
He took a few wrong turns before he found the dilapidated Victorian house in the gathering gloom. He’d seen the Edwardian house in Portland once; Jordan apparently had a thing about restoring old houses. According to BD, she’d done most of the heavy work. Theo wondered if BD exaggerated. Somebody was working on this house.
He hauled the bike up to the porch and knocked. And knocked, and knocked very hard. “Myrtle… it’s your crusty Uncle Theo! ‘Member? Please open the door, I’m beat; I came biking up from Great-Gran’s today.”
That got an answer. “Uncle Gruff?”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “Yup, Little Tree, it’s Uncle Gruff.”
Bolts shot, chains rattled and the door swung open. If Jordan needs that much security, how could he leave her alone all day? He bit his lip on the question. His niece’s face was smeared and dirty from tears. “Where’s Dad? Why are you here? Where’s anybody! What’s happened?” The overwrought girl began to cry.
Theo reached out and sat on the threshold, holding his niece. Poor Little Tree, these must be the first tears of relief instead of terror today.
“I don’t have answers for you, Myrtle,” he said when her tears stopped. “Let’s get my bike in and give me a chance to stretch out. I’ve biked all the way from los Gatos today. Will Jordan get mad if we bring the bike in?”
“Hmmm? Oh, no! He keeps ours in here! How far is Los Gatos?”
“Ahhh, about 80 miles,” said Theo, heaving himself up and peering across the dim living room. Two bikes rested against the far wall. He felt too wiped to do more.
“Bring it in?” prompted his niece. With a start, Theo walked the bike in. He stood it with the others and looked around. The house was dirty, with the ingrained grime of years. One wall was scrubbed and being repainted. In the flickering light of an oil lamp on the table it was hard to see color; he had an impression of a nice, but neglected craftsman.
He staggered over to the couch and fell into it. “Sorry, Little Tree,” he apologized. “I’m wiped. I didn’t realize how bad.”
“It’s OK, Unca Gruff. I’d be tired if I’d ridden that much. Do you want water or something?”
“Food, is there any food?”
“I made jerky yesterday. It’s pretty good.”
“Yeah; Mum, BD, taught me.”
Theo looked closely at Myrtle. Tear traces were all over her face; but the need to do answer questions had given her a focus. He forced himself up. “Is there water? I am so filthy…”
“Noooo… Mrs. Grantz told me to fill the tub when the lights went out yesterday, but there wasn’t enough in the pipes. I got a little…”
Water is going to be a problem, thought Theo, stumbling over to his bike. He pulled out the 2-liter bottles cousin Jane had given him and showed them to Myrtle. She took the oil lamp and led the way to the basement. The kitchen, showing signs of remodeling, was there. The stove was an old fashioned gas range. “That works,” said Myrtle as she put the bottles on the kitchen table. “I finished up the jerky when Dad didn’t come home.”
Her hands trembled as she reached for glasses, and she hunched her shoulders. “Is he going to come?” she asked, in a small voice.
“I have no idea, Little Tree. Where does he work?” Myrtle found a business card on the corkboard and handed it to him.
Theo filled two glasses with water, served a plate of jerky, dived into the huge refrigerator. The whiff of food spoiling caused him to prop the door open and pull out the vegetables. Carrots, cucumbers and a bag of salad made it on the plate, precariously balanced.
He set the stuff on the table and lit another lamp, went upstairs to his back pack and grabbed all the maps. Studying the business card he leafed through the maps. “So, Jordan was probably in San Pedro or near when the lights went out…”
“Not yesterday. Dad called me from LA yesterday afternoon. He said he was at ‘Edward’s.’ They were testing the new landing algor… algo…”
Horrified, Theo broke in, “Edward’s Air Force Base?” An Air Force Base, testing controller software! I’ve no idea how hands-on Jordan is, but I’ll bet he’d be in the tower or on the landing field! On the landing field of an active Air Force Base with planes coming home for the night just when the suppression effect hit.
Theo swallowed. If Jordan had been at Edward’s, then he was lost. If he’d been traveling back; he was lost. If his plane landed in Oakland, he might still be alive. He questioned Myrtle. “I think he said he was coming back on the 9:10.”
Theo groaned. It sounded like Jordan had been at Edward’s when the effect had hit. Tears started to trickle down her cheeks as Myrtle understood what the questions meant. Theo patted her shoulder, feeling helpless. Somebody banged on the door and yelled, “Myrtle, Myrtle!!! Are you OK? Myrtle?”
Myrtle dashed upstairs to the front door. She yanked it open and was snatched up. Theo walked up. “I’m Myrtle’s Uncle Theo. My sister is her mother. I just got in.”
Myrtle wriggled herself free. “It’s OK, Mrs. Grantz, he is my uncle, and he came from los Gatos today.”
“Hasn’t Jordan gotten in?”
Myrtle shook her head, tears starting to her eyes.
“Sorry,” Mrs. Grantz apologized to Theo. “I try to keep an eye on her, but she doesn’t get along with my kids and likes to stay here. And I get back pretty late each evening.”
“I’m glad somebody does keep an eye on her,” answered Theo. “Do you have any news? I’ve been biking all day.”
Mrs. Grantz shook her head. “My husband never came home. My car went kaput about ten blocks away, but Fredrick works in Livermore. It’s a long walk.
“Jordan was supposed to get in around 10 and take the limo home.“
Myrtle ran out of the room. They could hear her feet pounding up rickety stairs. Theo bit his lip. “I can’t think of any way Jordan can be alive. I hope your husband makes it home.”
Mrs. Grantz shuddered. “Me, too. I’m sorry about Myrtle.”
Theo shook his head.
“I… I have to go. My Richie told me there was a strange guy in Myrtle’s house and I had to make sure she was ok. Poor pet, she spends so much time alone.”
“Well, I’m glad you checked.” Theo closed the door behind Mrs. Grantz. With a sigh he climbed the stairs, placing his feet carefully in the dark. The four doors on the little landing were shut. He stared at the doors, then spoke loudly. “Little Tree, I’m going to eat and lock up. Where’s Jordan’s room? I can’t sleep on the couch.”
The right hand door opened and a hand pointed to the left. “Thanks, niece. I’ll be there if you need me.”
He ate and took care of his needs. Using the toilet led to uncomfortable thoughts about sewers and the bay, so close to the house. With a sigh, he used an oil lamp to get upstairs.
Late that night he woke from an uneasy sleep to feel Myrtle settling on top of the blankets at his back. He reached around. She was trembling under an afghan. He let her be and drifted back into troubled sleep.
Daybreak brought pain. The bed was hard enough to make his joints protest. The small warm spot on his back was the gentle breathing of his niece. He’d never had a child curl up close to him in trust and the feeling left him shaken. He eased away from her, but she was instantly awake.
“Unca Gruff, what are we going to do? Was Mrs. Grantz right? I hate her! She shouldn’t have said that!”
“Truth hurts,” Theo managed to croak. His throat was raw and the smell of burning fuels, wood and paint was very strong. He ran his tongue over his teeth and winced. His mouth tasted of day old jerky. “I need to brush my teeth, scrub my body and then we need to sit and talk strategy. I don’t know what to do, other than bringing in water to flush the toilets.”
“Oh, yeah, chores.”
“Always chores,” said Theo, bracingly. “Now scoot and get dressed.”
The day passed both slowly and fast. I want to get Myrtle back to Los Gatos. But, how? It was a long day’s bike ride for me; I don’t think Myrtle could do it in a day. And taking more time means sleeping on the road, which makes us vulnerable. What else can I do? The small hope that Jordan had made his way back to Oakland hadn’t survived Mrs. Grantz’ visit.
They hauled water from the marina, using a small hand truck, got the tub filled with fresh, flushed all the toilets with brack, and worried about the suppression effect.
The marina had a water tower for the boats at dock. The guard was garrulous and worried; he knew Myrtle and allowed them to take fresh water. He fidgeted around them as they filled the six 5 gallon buckets that fit on the hand truck. They went back to the marina three times, sweating in the light winter’s sun.
With a working gas range, food was a non issue. Jordan hoarded food like a Mormon. Theo found sacks of rice and oats, cases of Mac’n’cheese, dried soups, dried milk; dried fruit, cans of fruits and vegetables, spices and bottled water and soda. After lunch, he and Myrtle walked up the street and he scanned the sky. I’ve been waiting since the “change” to hear Air Force fighter jets fly over. I’ve been expecting tanks, scouting airplanes, but there’s nothing. The stillness of the air; the lack of machinery sounds creeped his skin.
“What are you looking for, Unca?” asked Myrtle.
“Well, it’s been two days since we lost power. I’m wondering where the Coast Guard, the Army, the National Reserve, the government are! I keep expecting planes to rocket overhead; drop radios, transmitters, whatever. But it isn’t happening. I wonder how wide a radius this thing affected. More than 100 miles for sure, but how much more?” Theo looked south; south where a dark cloud loured over the South Bay from hours of fires. North more clouds of smoke hung over the mega-metropolis. His nose was stuffed up from all the ash and particles.
Myrtle jostled him. “Unca, what’s with the clouds? You’re frowning.”
Theo shook his head and turned back down the street. “I don’t know, Myrtle. The clouds are smoke from buildings burning. Water pumps don’t work. I think the Bay Area is going up in smoke. I don’t know what to do.
“Do I take you to Los Gatos and The Grands? Or figure out how to get you to Oregon?”
“Home?” asked Myrtle. The sad yearning in her voice reminded Theo of his impulse to bike back to New Hampshire. The clouds of smoke hovering over the South Bay looked just as black on a second and third sighting as the first. I wonder what’s happening at Cousin Charlie’s? That smoke doesn’t look good. Whatever has to be done, Charlie will do it. And Deb and Ted.
“OK,” he said. “We’ll go to Oregon. We better bike up 101 instead of I-5. I think there is water up I-5, but it’s exposed and deserted and climbs through the mountains.”
“Let’s write a note telling Jordan where we are going and prep the bikes. We can leave at dawn tomorrow.”
It was late before he finished loading the bikes as he liked. They were awkward, but Myrtle proved she could handle her load. He couldn’t figure out how to turn the hand truck into a trailer. It meant leaving behind more food than he was happy giving up. It’s six hundred miles give or take to Oregon… say 20 days for us, 2 people eat 5 pounds a day? I don’t know, but that means carrying 40 or 50 pounds apiece… Just pack as much as I can…
Take to the roads now, or sleep in a protected place and start at dawn? His aching muscles and a look at his niece’s tired, soot-streaked face convinced him to wait until dawn.
Dawn was a pallid glow when the fire stench jerked Theo awake. He could hear crackles in the distance. He levitated yelling, “Myrtle, Myrtle, shake a leg! We’re in trouble,” jumping to the window. He couldn’t see much. Billows of acrid smoke stung his eyes. “Let’s go, Little Tree. We should have gone last night, but the fire looked stable and we were so tired.”
Myrtle was white and shaking, Theo helped her get her bike with it’s load of food down the steps and then carried his down. They wheeled the bikes quickly down the street. The cross street was full of people staring at the wall of fire coming up from Carquinez. Why are they just standing there? he wondered. They’ve got to get out!
He turned towards the west and north and stopped. There was a wall of fire cutting them off.
A shocked scream jerked him around. A man was running, clutching a backpack with money spilling out of it, and behind him another man was sinking to the ground; a knife in his gut. Theo shrugged off his backpack and pulled out the first aid kit. He leaned the bike against a lamppost. The crowd flowed around the man, but nobody helped him.
Theo shoved through and pushed the man down and ripped his shirt open. The size of the hilt and the swelling around it told it’s tale. The knife had sliced a major blood vessel. Damn! He’s done for… nothing I can do! He heard the crowd; people asking shocked questions as he lay the man down.
He stood and turned, tripping and grabbing Myrtle, pushed against him. Her thumb was in her mouth and her eyes fixed on the unconscious man. “Unca Gruff…” she asked in a wobbly voice.
“Nothing to do, Little Tree. Even with an ambulance he wouldn’t make it.”
A woman came over with a blanket and a pillow. Theo opened his mouth and then shrugged. We have more urgent things to do! He looked at the fires, pulling a glassy eyed Myrtle with him to their bikes. Theo knelt and looked her in the eyes. She rolled them away.
“Myrtle, you can have a breakdown later. I’ll let you scream and howl and stare and evade then. Right now we have to save our lives and get to BD. BD, remember? Mom? We’ve got to go, right now!”
He stood and looked around, “But where?” he asked himself.
“The Marina?” asked Myrtle in a whisper. “Can we hide in the water tower? Will that protect us?”
“No, but marina… boats, boats! I’ve got over a thousand dollars…” even as he said that Theo made sure nobody over heard. “But there is nobody to rent a boat from….” Hesitant, worried, he looked at the fire. “They’ll burn, they’ll burn if they aren’t taken out.”
“He’s dead! He’s dead! Why didn’t anybody do something?”
Theo and Myrtle flinched. “Come on!” said Theo, standing and holding Myrtle’s bike. “We’ve got to get out of here. To the Marina.” He swung himself onto his own heavily laden bike and followed his niece’s wobbly path down the street.
The gate at the marina was closed, locked, and chained. With an absent pat on the shoulder for his white-faced niece, he pulled out the halligan bar. He looked at it and felt cold move in his gut. This is a felony; breaking and entering with intent to steal.
But the boats will burn…
Nobody has come…
Maybe there is nobody left.
A cold ripple traveled up his spine. Incongruously, he thought of his laptop, maybe burning in a hotel 80 miles away; of his world burning and clenched his teeth. It was time to step outside the box, the box of civilization… he moved the halligan bar, aiming, not at the heavy lock enclosed in a 3/8” steel box, but at the hinges.
Wow! What a tool! This works! It took all his strength to break the hinges and shoulder the gate aside. Myrtle pushed her bike through. Theo turned to get his and saw why she was moving so fast… people were pelting up the street, just ahead of the fire. “Where are you going?” he yelled after Myrtle.
“Come, see! This is the boat Dad and Aunt Beans want to buy!” The girl threaded her way expertly down the gangways to a sweet little 24 ft sailboat. Theo approved of Jordan’s taste, and the unknown “Aunt Beans.” It was oceangoing. They would be able to boat down the bay to Sonoma County or Marin.
It was the “Firefly.” He smiled. “It’s just a little light in the dark.” His niece gave him a quizzical look. Behind them, the small crowd fought over rowing boats and a couple tried to start up powerboats.
He swung Myrtle aboard and handed her bags and sacks and packs and the awkward 5 gallon stock pot he’d packed with sugar, salt and spices, and the various spoons and such that wouldn’t fit anywhere neatly. She laid them on the pilot’s deck; the cabin was locked. Theo swung aboard and pulled up the bikes. The halligan bar opened the cabin door. Theo cast off as Myrtle shifted the food. A long pole helped him shove the boat free and turn it to the Napa River. Myrtle made short work of her task.
“I need you to steer, Myrtle,” said Theo. “We’re going that-a-way.”
Myrtle took the wheel, wiggled it and got the hang of it. Theo poled the boat. It was hard work. Behind Myrtle’s back he could see the fire roar down the crowded marina. Some boats were away, but most burned. A bend hid them from view and he looked forward, hiding the last minute’s sights and sounds deep in his memory.
Myrtle concentrated on steering. On his next pass by the wheel he said, “It’s hard work without a motor or tow.”
“You know, Roger would want the ‘little donkey’ out and working,” she answered. For several seconds he was nonplussed, then he realized that BD had shared their favorite childhood books with her daughter. He answered “Swallows and Amazons” style.
“Well, able-seaman Myrtle, the ‘little donkey’ is being a donkey, so we do it Cap’n John and Cap’n Nancy’s way.” She smiled and turned her attention to the bay. Soon the wind that drove the fire down on them caught them. He shipped the pole. “Let’s set sail Little Tree, it’ll be easier.”
Theo was grateful his niece knew her way around boats. “Dad and Aunt Beans rent a boat just like this one. It’s nice!” It was. Set up so one or two could sail it easily; every sheet could be controlled from the cockpit and a number of pulleys and winches allowed weaker people to handle it. Theo dropped into the cockpit, barking his shin on a bike pedal, and twisted to avoid a handle bar. “I’ll see about inside and getting the bikes stowed.” He ducked into the cabin.
Two bunks, neither big enough for him, a curtained head and a minuscule galley greeted his gaze. The cupboards were locked… but an unlocked drawer held all the keys; including the key to the busted cabin door. Theo decided he’d see if he could fix it. He stowed the sacks of rice and oatmeal on one of the bunks, using tie downs from the drawers. The dried food went into cupboards that were already well stocked with canned stuff. The 5 gallon stock pot he guyed down on the counter. It barely fit.
There was a water tank; 20 gallons; the water was fresh. Maybe the owners were coming to use it and asked the guy to fill ‘er up. theorized Theo. The stove worked. “How are we doing, Myrtle?”
“Ogay, but I’ll need you soon. Daddy didn’t let me steer in the bay, just the marina.”
“OK!” He opened drawers quickly. Silverware, cooking gear, some towels… No ship’s papers, no charts, no log book. He pulled his map of California out of his backpack; it would have to do.
There was no space for the two bikes. Under the bunks, drawers held sheets, blankets and folded sleeping bags. Two lockers outside the door had sails, lines, a boat cover, an anchor and a sea anchor. Behind the wheel he found three 5 gallon cans of fuel.
He leaned the bikes one on each side of the cockpit and swung Myrtle up to the roof over the cabin door. The wind freshened and the boat heeled. He controlled it firmly and laughed for the wind in his face and the salt spray, the sudden freedom, breaking like a salt wave over the last two days of angst and fear.
“Yes, Little Tree?”
“Shouldn’t we be wearing life jackets?”
Theo laughed again. “Of course we should! Can you hop down? They’re probably stowed in the side lockers behind the bikes.”
His niece clambered down and poked her hands under the bike chains and through the wheels. The third locker had five life vests. One was small enough to be tightened onto Myrtle. None were big enough for Theo. He did his best, strapping two on, one front and one back.
Theo looked at the bay shore and winced. Fires were burning; too many fires. The dirty smoke climbed to hang in the sky like a grim pall over the dying multi-metropolis. Focus, Theo scolded himself. “Myrtle, please get the California map out of the cabin?” He spread it over the chart holder. “We’ve got to go under the bridge on 80; have you been that way?
“Duh! When we go to sea, we go to 80, under to San Pablo Bay; keep NW and then dead south to go under the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge; bear south past Tiburon and then SW so that we can pass under the Golden Gate… then things get rough!”
“It’s a long way and I don’t know it.”
“Daddy made me take tests. I navy-gator for him and Aunt Beans!” Myrtle sounded proud. Theo gladly gave her the job.
“You’ll need to be look out, and point out my landmarks so I don’t run us aground.”
Myrtle nodded, then hesitated. “Unca Gruff!”
“Aunt Beans guyed me to the mast!”
Theo considered. On an ordinary day, guying the child to the boat with a sufficiently long cable was a good idea; he had seen guy lines down below and her life jacket had a D ring for that. But today…. there was nobody on the water he’d want to help them if they turned turtle.
“I think I’ll guy us together instead, but we have to be careful to not tangle! Take the helm for a minute.”
He got a 50-foot line hooked up and then ran up the foresail as well. There was a manual stuck to the chart desk. He was impressed by the engineering of the little ship’s operations.
Myrtle sat by the mast, the wind whipping her hair about as she called out directions. Salt spray hit them both frequently as Theo struggled to master the little boat’s idiosyncrasies.
Around 8 am they sailed into the San Pablo Bay. The smoke obscured the sun’s face and only a pale disk was visible. Theo sailed west, following directions. Suddenly Myrtle sobbed. “It hurts, Unca Gruff! I forgot to ask you to braid it like Aunt Beans does for me.”
Theo looked at the snarled mass of hair and winced. “That’s bad, niece, and I know I can’t comb it. There’s not enough on my head for me to have learned.
“I don’t think we’re going to find fresh water showers, shampoo or rinse soon. If we go to Oregon, we’ll be washing in rivers and the sea for a while. You know what salt water does to hair?”
“Yes,” she sniffed. “It takes a bottle of rinse to fix it!”
“Honey, you have gorgeous hair; it will grow back. We need to give you a page boy bob for the trip home.” His niece cried silently as she slipped down, avoided the bikes and turned her back to him. He slipped the loop over the wheel and pulled out his pocket knife. He made heavy weather of cutting the girl’s snarled mane with the small scissors. The snarls were horrid enough he was glad he hadn’t tried to comb it first.
As he tossed the hair overboard, he watched Myrtle’s thumb go back into her mouth. He had a vague memory of BD telling him she hadn’t tried to break the child of the habit; that it meant extreme distress. Hell! I’m distressed! For a kid this must be the most terrifying thing in the world. “Honey, we’ve got a long run down the San Pablo Bay. I see two sailboats heading that way.” He pointed. “Why don’t you take a nap? You’ll need to be alert for the Richmond Bridge part.”
She sniffed and mumbled “ogay,” around her thumb. In a few minutes she was curled up sobbing in the sleeping bag, clutching a small, very ugly baby doll. So she did bring her special toy out of disaster. She must have packed it last night.
Theo concentrated on the boats ahead, the sails, and the wind. He breathed, grateful as his sinuses recovered from the burning pollutants. He felt much better about their chances on the water.
17th it happened, 18th biking to Vallejo, 19th trying to decide what to do and hauling water… Today is the 20th. I can’t lose track of the days. Carefully he wrote the dates on an edge of a map, and what had happened on each day.
Odd, no ship’s papers aboard, no log, no charts, no paper at all. For several hours he sailed, glad that Myrtle was sleeping off the shocks of the past hours. All around the bay could see smoke clouds rising. He thought he could trace them over major air corridors, refineries; the rest, might be arson or broken gas lines.
What to do? I want to get back to Cousin Charlie and the Grands; but I promised Myrtle we’d go to Oregon. I think highways are going to be more dangerous than I thought, but we can sail, can’t we?
Theo wished he had a cell phone and could call Charlie… Charlie? All hell broke loose, get everybody down to Half-Moon Bay and we’ll go sailing off into the sunset! Not likely! Four more people might fit, barely, on the Firefly. But… how many people would be looking for boats to escape?
Sail up the coast? Make it to Oregon, sail the Columbia River to Portland? He looked at the shore and remembered the stabbed man. It might be safer to risk the seas in this dinky little boat than walking or biking.
Parallax error and perspective finally to make him wake Myrtle around midday as they approached the San Rafael Bridge. Theo was nervous about shallows. He didn’t know the tides. No tide books or charts were aboard; only a simple compass built into the chart desk. He supposed the owners stored their boat box off ship.
Myrtle though tear stained, was a competent lookout/navigator. Jordan’s lessons and tests got them safely under the bridge “en-route” for Tiburon. Now, the decision… open sea or the shallow San Francisco Bay. It’s too shallow, and won’t put me anywhere near the Grands, he decided. I’ll have to head out to sea, choose between Half Moon Bay or Oregon… Damn! I need charts!
“Look, look!” Myrtle screamed and pointed. “Those are the Lady Washington and the, the… Daddy told me about them! We were going to go see them yesterday! They came from Hawai’i and Gray’s Harbor!”
The masts of the tall ships quickened his heart. He’d read about their arrival and had planned on seeing them. Maybe the salt water tars could help him.
“The Hawaiian Chieftain, I think.”
A tricky time later he luffed up along side the Hawaiian Chieftain, three times as long and twice as tall as his little Firefly, neatly painted white and black. The blue and yellow “Lady Washington” was anchored some yards off. “Ahoy, Hawaiian Chieftain. Ahoy!” he yelled.
A man looked over the railings; waved and went away. Soon another man looked over the side. Theo shivered. The man was wearing clothing suited to Captain Pellew or Horatio Hornblower. With all the changes over the past few days he wondered if he was trapped in a time shift.
“Ahoy! I’m Captain Ian MacIntire! Don’t mind the clothes, matey! We wear them for these recreation things! What ship, where from?”
“Firefly, out of Vallejo! What’s happened?”
“Your guess is as good as ours! Nothing works! Well, nothing but the compass and our old sextants, and the sails!”
“Small favors!” laughed Theo, realizing how badly he’d wanted to talk to another adult.
He hasn’t asked me if it is my boat. I wonder if he knows or guesses. “I don’t know. I’ve got family in San Jose and Los Gatos and a sister up in Oregon. I don’t know if I could make Oregon in this boat, and there aren’t any charts aboard.”
“Don’t go to San Fran or San Jose!” said the captain. “We bugged out of SF when things got really bad, rioting on the waterfront. And we can see from the crow’s nest! It’s a mess; fires everywhere, chaos, people running… If your people were smart they hightailed it. Unless you’ve got a rendezvous, you’ll never find them. It’s a madhouse.”
Theo winced; they hadn’t thought of that and the rendezvous was the house in Los Gatos. Tears flooded his eyes. He bit his lip; there would be nights when he could cry privately. “What about sailing out? I’ve got a sister in Oregon; Portland.”
“Maybe, if you are careful. Nice little boat there; she can make it. And you got your cabin boy to help. I think you could.”
Theo nodded and hefted Myrtle’s bike. Jettisoning the two awkward burdens into the cold sea water would feel good. He had bruises around his waist from the handle bars and scabs on his shins. Trying to boat on open seas with the bikes was impossible. He couldn’t think of a way to tow them or strap them down.
“Wait, wait! What are you doing?”
Theo paused, shifting his grip. “Tossing them overboard! It should be deep enough.”
“Hey! I’ll take them. Cars don’t work; we might need them if this stuff goes all the way up the coast! I’ll give you charts for them! Charts for the coast, for Astoria, the Columbia! Astoria’s a Coast Guard town. There’s a hazard where the Columbia comes out by Astoria. It’s called ‘The Bar.’ You’ll need a “Bar Pilot” to get into the Columbia. I’ll bet the Coast Guard keep things going even through this. Great people there. Really good captain on shore. Give me the bikes for the charts!”
Theo was astonished. I didn’t think of barter, but charts; charts are good. I’ve the land maps, but they’re pretty useless for sailing.
It took a half an hour of hard work and Myrtle’s tears at losing her bike before they were swayed up and the captain lowered a small package of charts for the northwest coast, a detailed chart of the Columbia River, a compass and some rulers and pens and pencils and paper pads. Theo regretted that he couldn’t get a sextant out of them.
He hung station on the ship for nearly an hour more, asking for advice and the second lieutenant gave him all he could, including a copy of “Before the Mast.” He concluded with what Theo considered a regrettably realistic assessment of the hell around them.
“If you make it to Oregon and can’t find your family, come to Washington and Gray’s Harbor and look for us!” Theo waved and looked at Myrtle. “Well, Little Tree? Want to navy-gator me through the Golden Gate? We can follow the ‘Tall Ships’ out, but I’d rather you keep watch, too.”
Myrtle sniffed. “Ogay. Unca, why’d you get paper and pens?”
“Well, there’s none on board and I like to take a lot of notes.”
“Oh! I brought my coloring pencils and pens and my pads.”
Theo opened his mouth, considered and changed what he was going to say. “If I had to use them, I’d use them, but we need to keep some things that are special, just to stay sane. I’m sorry we traded the bikes, but when we hit high seas…”
“I know!” said the little girl sullenly. “I understood that, but I don’t feel any better!”
“Well, me neither. Let’s make sail.” Theo concentrated on Myrtle’s directions and put his fears aside; for the Grands, Charlie, Jane; everybody in his widely scattered family. Sailing out of the San Francisco Bay, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge took most of the afternoon. Once on the “high” seas, Theo doubted his choice. People have sailed the seas in boats as small as this, but they’re experienced! The wind blew strongly from the north. He made wide tacks, and worried about the lee shore. He set course as far WNW as he could, wanting to be far away the coast come nightfall.
“I’m no Horatio Hornblower!” he said to Myrtle. “Let’s hope we can pull this off.”
“If Cap’n John and Susan, Titty and Roger could get across the North Sea in a storm, sure we can get to Oregon!” said Myrtle. Her sweet, soft voice tried to sound stout, but wavered and broke on the word “Oregon.”
Theo nodded. If Arthur Ransome and references to his books could keep them going, he would use them.
“Besides, Unca, Horatio hadn’t been to sea. He was the ‘midshipman who was sick in Spithead.’ He learned and we can, too.”
Theo looked at her in astonishment. “Dad and Mom love those books and Aunt Beans does, too. They talk a lot about them.”
“Good on you! You’ve a good memory, and you are right. Horatio learned to sail as a midshipman and we’ll do the same. It’s our middy voyage.”
Myrtle interrupted him to point him past Sausalito.
❀ ❁ ❀
BD hung back on the landing, scuffing her toe on the acid etched cream marble trim. It glowed with red highlights from the cressets outside. At the wave of noise that greeting Norman and Sandy she winced. The evening’s entertainment was planned and she didn’t want to see it. For fourteen days she had worked with the “Portland Protective Association;” Norman, Sandy and their closest cronies. Unobserved, she felt her face fall into long depressed lines. She didn’t fit. It was a familiar sensation from her childhood both in the American and Mexican school systems. Coming back to American as an adult hadn’t helped. She’d been hopelessly out of touch.
Once again she was caught in a completely antithetical group. Her knowledge of the region’s commerce, her accounting abilities and her capacity to think outside of the box made her valuable enough that her differences were allowed. She was completely out of sync with them. They would probably despise me if I hadn’t killed that dammed rapist, she thought grimly. She heard shouts and cheers as Norman slaughtered his sacrificial goats. Shouts and cheers greeted Norman’s proclamation of the Protectorate.
Quietly she took the papers from the strategy meeting just finished and tucked them away in her carry-all, stashed in Norm and Sandra’s personal quarters. She’d be biking back to Multnomah Village later.
It had taken Norman longer than he’d expected to take out Portland’s leaders and his temper was short today. Norm’s strategy of staging a “March to Salem,” (used three times) to demand fixes to the situation and explanations had removed most of the people who understood organization and politics. Those left found themselves handicapped by the immediacy of the crisis, and easy meat for Norman’s complete lack of…. BD mused, trying to come up with a term that wasn’t “sociopath” to describe the man.
She’d only taken “possession” of Multnomah village a few days ago. Sandra brought her scavenged horses into Lincoln High School’s football field and the PGE Stadium days ago at the cost of several altercations with a rattled and diminished police force.
Still, there certainly weren’t enough horses yet to go around. Sandra had started a training and breeding program; meanwhile, BD, and everybody else was biking or walking everywhere. Her calves and hams were putting on muscle. Plans to send people in to ride back the mess of bikes that Jabar had accumulated for her occupied her mind as she quietly she ghosted down the stairs.
Her dark blue and black brocade blended in with the acid etched black marble of the lower steps. The lobby of the library had been thrown open to either side. She slid unobtrusively into her seat, four down from Sandra Arminger’s right, next to Norman’s number one supporter, said Jabar Jones. His dashiki and beaded hat had become so familiar as he bossed the clean up of Portland that they were no longer remarkable.
Up the table on Norman’s left was a “prelate.” She shook her head. The unbroken line of St. Peter did not through him. But Norman liked him. I wonder if Norman knows who he is, that he worked with Lon Mabon; that he isn’t ordained; catholic or protestant? So far the regular catholic hierarchy had refused to have anything to do with Norman; those still in Portland. A laicizied Jesuit was not their idea of a proper leader. A few parish priests were present, but didn’t have the force of personality Norman needed.
She smiled sourly. Showing Norm the FBI office and their files would be entertaining. The file on his “Monseigneur” would, hopefully mean a delay in the establishment of Jesuit Catholicism crossed with the 1300’s church. I bet he’ll lose his temper and take the man out. Jabar’s deep mellow voice startled her. “What are you wool-gathering about?”
“Sorry,” she said. The large black man nodded. “I found a little tidbit for Norman. I was just trying to decide how he will react. And when to tell him.” She shook her head as he raised an eyebrow. “Nope, this one is for Norman. You’ll learn, soon enough, Jabar.”
He shrugged, dismissing the question. “I want to be called ‘Mollala’ now.”
“Well, Norman gave you the barony… the first he’s created. Mollala is the correct form of address. I’ll remember. Even in,” she gestured to the humming crowds around them, “quasi-private?”
They continued to talk quietly eating the rich food. Afterwards, she wandered off arm in arm with Phillipa, Mollala’s soon-to-be wife. “So, what shall I call you, Mollala lady?”
Phillipa gave her a tight smile. “I guess we’ll ‘My lady’ each other in public and ‘BD,’ ‘Phil’ each other in private.”
BD sighed for the past. They had met at a “war.” She’d spent five hours painting blue woad designs on Phillipa. Her friends had done each other copying her original patterns. She smiled at the memory of the naked, woad dyed warrior troop bursting into the battle at Acorn War, yelling in celtic and taking the attackers from the rear. It had turned the tide of war that year. Phillipa grinned; wild and feral. “You and Jabar are quite well matched Celtic Wolf Woman. Funny how things happen. You’d never have met him, but for the change.”
Phillipa’s smile was fierce and wild and predatory. “I have him now and he’s mine!”
“Very well matched!” murmured BD, “so about Sandra’s projects…’
“Oh! yes, Sandra… Listen, BD, is there something wrong with Sandra?”
“I don’t know; she’s been looking under the weather.”
They turned and looked at Sandra, talking with a priest and a SCAdian knight. After a minute, they shrugged. “Let’s get to work. I saw you smile at somebody; was it ‘Lord Emiliano?’”
“Yeah, I know him from way back, helped him nail a guy abusing the ‘illegales.’ He looks pretty blissed out; I’ll go grab the lady and find out what happened to his wife, Inez.”
“Norman is weird,” said Phillipa, scowling at one of the bunny girls. BD looked at her nonplussed and decided that the reference to Inez had caused Phillipa to subject hop. She shook her head. “He is internally consistent. From the outside he looks wildly incoherent. But whatever the twists in his brain are; he works with them. And its never seemed to affect his marriage.”
“Whatever… I’ll organize the ladies of honor.
“Somebody is waving at you, BD. Oh! It’s that Bosnian; what’s his name?”
BD turned and started. “He’s Herzegovian, not Bosnian. He used to live across the street from us.”
“Well, if that’s Vukovar, I need his wife, his daughter, and both daughter’s-in-law. Norm wants to hostage them with Sandra’s charm.”
“You got it. I’ll go round up your little coterie and bring them to you… BanAmerica room?” At her nod she forged over to Emiliano.
He saw her coming and grinned broadly, “Ah! La bella Beatriz!” he called out. “And deadly, too, I hear. Did you really kill Salazar and Ormelas?”
“Only Ormelas. Arminger took out Salazar and Manriquez when he heard.” Emiliano was drunk, or something… maybe just the euphoria of being on top. She was introduced to Reyna, “Mi concuña.” His euphoria faded briefly as he explained that Inez had died the third day of the change and Reyna was helping him with the kids.
That established that they weren’t married. BD looked quickly at Reyna and nodded… she was Inez’ brother’s sister-in-law; two or three removes. This avoided the catholic prohibition on marriage to the brother’s wife and it was clear Reyna was already sharing his bed.
“Listen to me, Emiliano… and remember tomorrow. Listen! ¿Me escuchas?” He nodded and she said, “Marry Reyna. It’s important to Norman. You understand?”
“Si, si, marry Reyna, tomorrow. I’ll do it if he wants.”
BD shook her head as he wandered off and caught Reyna. “No tu, tu no estas borracha.”
Reyna waited, frowning. “You don’t understand Spanish?” asked BD.
“No, my grandparents came from Guatemala. I only know a few words.”
BD nodded. “Are you catholic?”
“Good, if you find a catholic priest to marry you, send him to us. We can’t find many to work with the Protectorate. Meanwhile, Mollala’s lady, Phillipa, is the lady Protector’s ‘Head Lady in Waiting,’ and she wants to talk with you. She’s… over there.” BD pointed and Reyna nodded and tottered off on her very high heels. The Lords had walked in from North Portland, 4 or 5 miles and Reyna must have done it in those shoes.
She turned, looking for Vukovar and nearly tripped over the tall thin man. “Ha! Ha! You here! So good to see you well and alive!”
His loud voice and extravagant gestures made her smile as she shook hands. “It’s good to see you! And you, Madam,” she said. The three children, now all in their twenties crowded up and she marveled at the beauty of the children this plain, elderly couple had produced. “You moved, so soon after that little contretemps with your car, and I never knew where. What have you been doing?”
“I lead the gangs, of course… all the Herzegovinians answer to me!” She laughed as Drazhy Vukovar thumped his chest with a skinny fist. “Now I am become a feudal lord! How the communists would hate me all over! Not a bourgeois! Nah, nah, an aristo, me and my family. You remember them?”
All had married and she shook hands.
“Hay! I never forget, all your friends and you, racing out of your house, all dressed up and pouring down the slope yelling at those bad ones trying to hurt my wife… how you scared them!”
BD smiled back, hiding her fear. Few enough, now, knew her for a witch. Vukovar and his family had been attacked just before she and her coven had gone into their Eostara circle almost ten years before. They had heard the screams and raced to the rescue in full robed glory, dropping cords and athames in a pile by the front door.
Vukovar laughed again. He slapped his younger son on the shoulder. “You remember? We wondered why they dress like that! And they were these knight people! Eh? Eh?”
BD breathed a small prayer of gratitude as the young man nodded. Aleksandr, she thought, but he goes by Alex. As long as they believed her to be having a SCAdian meeting, her secret might hold. She nodded kindly to Mira. “Can you come with me, please? I’d like to introduce you to Lady Phillipa. I’m sure you’ll all want to work with Lady Sandra on the many projects she has planned.” BD shepherded the four women to Phillipa who was talking with Reyna.
She saw Sandra slip up the stairs and waver at the first landing. She shot a glance at Phillipa who nodded back.
BD slipped up the stairs. She found Sandra in the private apartments, standing by a window with her hand over her mouth. A very unladylike burp shook her.
“Stomach upset?” BD asked.
Sandra burped again. “I shouldn’t have eaten that rich supper. I was already off my feed.”
“You are not one of your mares!” scolded BD, coming up and feeling her forehead and neck. “If you’ve got a bug, you need to get into bed. We still have good doctors but we don’t have lab tests or a lot of medicines any more.”
Sandra sighed, rubbing her forehead and burping again. “I guess I could go to bed. I wanted to meet the women…”
“Phil has your back, and so do I. You’ll make a better impression in a few days.”
Sandra leaned against the cold window pane and BD frowned. Sandra really looked very white, but she wasn’t running a fever. “Com’on, Sandra, you look wiped. I’m putting you to bed and getting you a little bicarbonate to drink. Or Alka-Seltzer to settle your tummy.” She steered her to the bedroom. One of the maids, in a velvet collar and lace teddy, opened the door. A red, swollen, streak across her face testified to somebody’s temper.
“Is the bed warmed?”
The maid bobbed a terrified curtsy. “Yes, madam, yes.”
BD nodded. Maintaining her wolf was hard around these poor girls. “I’ll take it from here. You go to the kitchen for some chicken broth and saltines and very cold water.”
The maid hurried out. I hate this bond servant crap they’re pulling. Damn!
BD found a warm flannel nightie she’d had one of “her” hostages run up for Sandra. Clothing had to be layered and warm, these days.
“Oh, not that, BD! Norman laughs!”
“I’ll just bet he does! Nonetheless… I’ll talk to Norman. You need some serious sack time without your usual fun and games.”
As she got into bed she said, “You sound sad, BD.”
“No, just wistful. It’s nice to see how much Norman cares for you and what a strong relationship you have. I never managed it. If I can’t have it I can be glad others have, and just a tab envious.”
“Well, I’m sure Norman wouldn’t mind…”
BD cut her off with a crack of laughter and a raised hand. “Don’t, don’t, my Lady! Norman and you are a Ben and Jerry’s extra rich chocolate macadamia with cherries to my very, very generic vanilla. It wouldn’t be anything Norman would enjoy, or I for that matter. I’m regretting the lack of a partner not a bedmate; those are easy to come by.
“Sandra…” BD hesitated. “You always knew Norman strayed?”
“Yes. He wouldn’t leave me and it doesn’t matter.”
BD shook her head. “We were so sure it was the usual, ‘wife finds out last.’”
Sandra laughed as the maid walked back in. “At least now I have more control over things. But Norman gets bored and I don’t know what to do with the maids.”
BD set up a TV tray table and stood aside as the maid put cold water and broth down. She propped Sandra up. BD waved her out. “So, he gets bored, they get smacked?”
“That. And we offer them to Norman’s men as a reward. But most of them cry and the men give them back. What should I do with them? They seem ok with the idea, but it doesn’t last.”
“Do what you do with all your garbage. Give it to me to make something of it.”
Sandra sighed. BD ripped open an Alka-Seltzer envelope and dropped the two tablets into the water. After the fizzing was done, she gave it to Sandra. Several large burps came up and BD saw her face relax. Gas in her stomach, causing pressure. She’s been wearing tight jeans, makes it worse. Another burp came up and Sandra hissed in annoyance.
“Go easy on yourself. Whatever upset your tummy, I don’t think it will slow you down much. But your swollen gut is being hurt by your tight pants. Surely you’ve got some bigger ones? Or I can send you a few pairs a size up so you’re comfortable.”
“OK, get me some larger pants and I’ll stay in bed tomorrow. And take the girl, please. I hate seeing her scared face. Tell Norman I said you’re to have all the useless ones.”
“OK, you look like I can leave you and you’ll stay put.” BD raised a brow at Sandra who was sipping at the broth.
She nodded. “Scout’s honor,” pledged the queen of the Willamette Valley.
BD left quietly. As she crossed the large sitting room, once the government documents room, Norman came in.
“BD, where’s Sandra?”
“Bed, and I hope staying there for a day or so. She’s got some kind of bug, Norman.” The thwarted great man was there in his hasty movements, frowns and anger. “Something wrong?”
Norman shook his head. “I can’t find anyone who wants that Kathy chit.”
“The maid attending on Sandra?”
“Yes, she’s no good anymore.”
“Sandra suggests you send them down the road to me. I’ll sure find a use for them. If you insist on your Barons being married, they’ll have a scant welcome for the bunny girls.”
Norman went to the fireplace and loaded another log on. His mind was not on the problem of crying girls who whored for food and safety and found the price difficult to pay. “Why won’t the prelates come to me? Can’t they see?”
“No,” said BD, “They don’t have your vision.
“Norman, I found the FBI office and their files. This one might be important.”
She rummaged through her duffle bag. “Here! Your ‘Father’ Ambrose is Andy Rankin. You might want to take a look.”
Norman leafed through the pages, grunting and suddenly laughing. “Gotcha!” he gloated. “Anything else?”
“Yeah. I’d like to go to Astoria for a few days.”
“The goals you gave us in the strategy meeting. You need to know how what is happening out there,” BD said with a vague hand waving gesture. “You need to know much land is abandoned, where the population is concentrating; you need river pilots pretty desperately with all the shipping tumbling down the Columbia. I’m guessing they all went down river after anchoring or securing their boats. The Astoria commander of the Coast Guard is a real character who runs a tight operation. They’d go to him.
“I think I can get you Astoria via treaty. The Coast Guard are an elite. I doubt they’ve let the town fall into chaos. You need the river pilots to help you with the hulks. And you need the bar pilots to keep the bar clear; when shipping comes back, the Astoria Bar is rated one of the world’s worst maritime hazards. If you get a treaty, you’ll have it all in place.”
Norman nodded attending the fire. “Can you leave?”
“Yes. I’ve got my subsections and straw bosses set up now. They should do all right for a week or two. Astoria is 80 something miles by Hwy. 30. I can get there in two or so days depending on how hard I bike. I’ll take that troop of staff men of Emiliano’s. They can split up out of Astoria and do census stuff down 26 and through Tillamook.”
“What about the work gang’s food? You said you could give me enough for…” BD waved her hand. “All set up; soup and bread three times a day. Food nobody would eat, even though perfectly healthy. Marta Sequeiros is in charge and Mollala will help her so nobody asks awkward questions.”
Norman frowned and then laughed… “Whatever! As long as they keep working. Take my Scout; he’s a good man and I need him to learn the territory.
“Are you taking off, now?”
“Yup, just as soon as I change into biking garb.”
Norman grinned. “Be my guest!”
BD snorted and changed. She knew Norman was in a vile mood and teasing her was his relief. She allowed it because the bunny girl would sport another bruise if she didn’t.
As she packed her feast clothes, she asked. “Want to make a list of the maids you need me to take? I can take them tonight since I have a bunch of bikes Mollala parked for me in the garage. They can make themselves useful pedaling some of them.”
BD slung the duffle over her shoulder and reached for the list. Norman went to Sandra as she headed down the stairs. Another good snatched out of evil, she thought. And two allies, in addition to Mollala’s good will.
❀ ❁ ❀
“We need to make Point Reyes well a-sea, Able Seaman Myrtle,” said Theo. “It’s late. I want to head out to sea for the night; it’s safer with a lee shore.”
Myrtle stood by the mast. “I’ll do my best, Cap’n Unca Gruff. This is as far as I’ve gone. We always go to Pebble Beach.”
The sea was choppy, and wind from the north. Theo sighed. I’m going to have to tack if we want to go north. The wind should shift at dusk and dawn and the coastal breezes will help us. We’ll need to run watch and watch. Poor little kid; she’s going to be very tired, and me, too.
Theo set the sails for his first tack out to sea and watched their direction until the compass held steady at NWN. “Pay out the line and get all the way to the prow. I need you to look for floating garbage or suddenly shelving sea bottom. Keep the shore in sight. If we get too far from land I’ll tack back.”
“Aye, aye, Captain!”
Later Theo couldn’t remember many details of the next few days. They tacked and tacked and watched and tacked. Each evening the shore-ward breeze blew them north and they flew like a gull over clear air turbulence, jumping and jouncing on the waves, but making good progress. Theo would get as far from land as he dared, watching for islands all the time, before the breeze veered again. In the louring light of the dawn, under a gibbous moon, they would run north once again until the wind veered. They took watch and watch at night, and each took a nap by day.
Theo was tired; he rubbed gritty eyes and looked at his little log book. “March 25; coast line appears to be bending NWN again.” We are probably running up the Lost Coast, he thought. He wondered how much longer they could take the strain. Myrtle had fallen asleep on watch twice, now. No harm done, but it gave Theo chills.
Theo heard the hesitant, scared note in his niece’s voice and clamped down on his “What!”
“Yes, Able-Seaman Myrtle?” he asked.
“We’re out of water.”
Theo sighed. What an idiot I am! Previous paradigms, he scolded himself. We can stop and have a snooze whenever we want. Nobody is waiting for us.
“Let’s look for a river, Able-Seaman. We can to do this several times; so, how?”
It took more effort than he’d thought. They ran slowly along the coast peeking into every possible cove, watching the bottom apprehensively for shelving and bars. Finally they found a river spilling into a tiny cove. It looked ideal. There was a beach; the river made a little delta to the left. There was a small campsite; a spot for a tent, a fire grill and a little outhouse; but no water tap.
Each night he’d tested the flashlight, and tried to restart his digital watch. Remembering the crowds as they fled Vallejo, he was wary of people. There was an unpaved road over a small bridge to the campsite. It curled between mountains and out of sight. He wished he could set up an alarm.
Luffing the craft, bringing down the sails and dropping the anchor in the tiny cove reminded Theo irresistibly of Dick and Dot on the Scarab’s maiden voyage. Myrtle’s comments showed him she remembered the Ransome book as well. “We’ll have to practice, just like they did after they got food.”
“And food and water are our problem, now. Pity this isn’t the “North Pole” with all the shops of Lake Windermere.”
”Well, we’re the martyrs, going to find the picts!” said Myrtle.
Theo, wrestling with the soup kettle, four one-liter soda pop bottles, and matches, only grunted. “We’ll have to swim to those rocks and climb up. I think we should swim with our tennis shoes on or flip flops.”
Theo put the boat hook in easy reach on the side. Carefully he put the underwater spring driven harpoon from the forward locker on the chart table. I could get them to shore, but I don’t think we’ll need them. Leave them on the boat. An ax and rope hung from his belt. He hoped they wouldn’t drag down.
“Unc’a, doesn’t this come out?”
He turned from the edge of the boat. Myrtle was tugging on her “bench.” It was a 40 gallon cooler. With no ice, Theo had stuck it in the back of his mind. It would be a better transport than the stock pot and 4 one-liter bottles. “Perfect. Let me swim over and scout a bit. We’ll take that over afterwards.”
He slipped into the water and came up with a “whuff!” Cold, very cold! He stroked forward as fast as possible, feeling the chill bite. He swallowed a fair amount of salt water, swimming.
Scrambling over the rocks upstream, he decided the river was ideal, rocky bottomed, clear; no sewage floating or caught. There was plenty of deadfall. In an hour they had a pile of dry wood.
They loaded the cooler with stock pot, matches, some towels and the hourglass they’d found in the galley. The day was hard work. The fire ate up their hoard of wood very quickly. Myrtle scratched lines in the sand, using the 5-minute glass to time the boiling. They kept the water at a roiling boil for 15 minutes. Then they cooled it in the stream, before finally pouring it into the cooler. About 2 gallons made it into the cooler each time.
Theo foraged farther and farther for dead trees, windfall and storm blown branches. Fortunately, he remembered water is heavy. They ferried the water back to the boat in 10 gallon increments. By evening they had taken some 20 gallons back to the boat.
Theo cooked ashore. Cans yielded sausages and corn for a treat. Rice, olive oil, salt and pepper tasted much better than the quick cooking they’d been doing on Firefly. “Can we sleep on shore, Unc’a Gruff?”
“I don’t think we’d better, Able Seaman Myrtle. We don’t know who’ll see the fire. I want to go back to the boat, swim back tomorrow, wash and rest for the day and get two nights of good solid sleep. Does that sound like a plan?”
“Aye, Aye, Cap’n Unca!”
Myrtle went to bed and Theo stayed up, watching the stars wheel for a while. His bed was a sleeping bag on top of a pad of another sleeping bag and towels, half in and half out of the cabin. The dawn light woke him and he stretched happily. One full night of sleep rather than watch and watch with a child was glorious. He sighed and wished he had a way to hunt the deer wandering the dawn-lit beach. He decided to stay a day, rest, eat, maybe forage for food… maybe not; I don’t know the west coast plants. We can leave on tomorrow’s dawn breeze.
He left Myrtle to have her sleep out and swam ashore. He foraged for more wood; dragging storm downed branches over to the little fire site. When the sun was halfway up the sky, Myrtle finally awoke and jumped over the side with a healthy yell. They focused on water boiling and enjoying the peace.
They had a late breakfast/early lunch of oatmeal, powdered milk and brown sugar, and Theo set the last of the beef jerky to stew with rice and beans for a late lunch/dinner. Around three Theo heard Myrtle’s uncertain voice, “Unc’a?”
He turned from the sea. Four grimy people were walking over the bridge.
“Hello!” yelled one of the men, waving.
Caution snapped into place. “Hello,” he replied, neutrally.
“Where you from?”
“Vallejo, and you?”
“Eureka… man! That city is dead! Dead, dead, dead! We tried taking 101 south, tried to get to Petaluma, or Santa Rosa, or Vallejo, but there were people from everywhere else, and everybody grabbing food.”
Theo shrugged. He served Myrtle and himself and handed over the pan with the spoon. “It’s all we have. You can finish it off.”
They dug in with hands and the ladle. Theo felt Myrtle put her empty bowl next to him. As they ate, he questioned them. From the answers, the change went far past the Bay Area. And no rescue units had come.
He rinsed the dirty pan, promising himself to boil it for an hour. The dirty hands and body smell from the four turned his stomach. They came along the coast, and didn’t even rinse off in the sea?
“So, where you going?” asked one of the men, grinning in an ingratiating way. He seemed to be the leader.
Theo frowned. “I don’t know. We were sailing away from the suppression effect. Now, I guess, just sailing.
“By the way, you are…?”
“Oh, Mike, and Jim, Jill and Mary. That’s a sweet little boat you’ve got. I’ve never sailed. Is it hard?”
Mary snorted. “My Dad’s a big boat fanatic. To listen to him, it’s really hard. I bet it’s a cinch!”
“No, your Dad is right. Sailing is hard and no book can teach you. I know how to sail; and so does Little Tree. Even so, sailing unfamiliar waters without charts, sextants, or GPS units is scary.
“I don’t really know where here is — do you?”
The four shook their heads. Theo pushed, “What was the last town you passed?”
“Look, Theo, we haven’t been watching signposts. We’ve been looking for deer or pig; chicken; even pigeon. We don’t know where we are. Take us with you! That boat can get us out of here and we can fish.”
“Fish! Ha! Nuts, deep sea fishing is an art. I know just enough to know we can’t do it from my boat. Also; my boat! It carries two; us two. No!”
Things happened very fast. Later Theo and Myrtle tried to put it together. Jim suddenly dived into the waves and swam for the boat. Myrtle, already aboard, hefted the boat hook. With a yell, Theo ran to the beach. Mike and Mary grabbed him and the three tripped and went flying. Neither let go and Theo twisted, hard, landing on his rear. Yanking his right arm against Mike’s weight, he socked the woman in the face. She let go of his left, wailing as blood flowed from her nose and one eye shut.
Theo shoved himself up, slamming into Mike and swung clasped hands at his throat. The younger man fought back, gripping his arm and spoiling his punches. Theo could hear the women creeping up. Damn, this guy is a ferret! He just keeps twisting. He suddenly stomped on Mike’s foot and kicked with the other. Mike screamed and collapsed, holding onto his ankle. Theo heard a yell and screams coming from the boat, but he had his hands full. He swung on Mike; kicking him in the gut. He ran three steps and grabbed the sturdy branch he’d been going to break and spun around with it clipping the woman he’d punched. She collapsed with a bloody cut over her other eye. Mike wobbled to his feet. Damn! he thought, clubbing him with the branch. He faced the two women. Both had knives, bloodstained kitchen knives. Why did I let them get so close? he wondered, exasperated and angry. Another scream came from the boat. The voice was too deep to be Myrtle. I am a class A idiot! Now I get to do the scary! He hunched his shoulders and jumped forward, swinging the branch. “Drop it! Now! I’m gonna break your heads!”
“I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!” screamed one of the women.
“I don’t think so! I really don’t!” Theo yelled back. He backed up and turned slightly. The boat pole was in the water and Myrtle was pointing the harpoon gun right in Jim’s bloody face. He had two bleeding gashes that Theo could see.
“That Jim person will be very dead, too. My girl will pull the trigger.
“Get him away from her! Com’on, call him out!” Theo swung the branch angrily. “Drop those knives; NOW! Take Mike and Jim and go away! Without the knives, of course.”
He bent down and patted the man’s pants and pulled out two knives and a gun. Contemptuously, he threw the gun away. The woman who hadn’t been hit threw her knife down. “OK!”
“Jill!” snapped her bleeding friend.
“He’s got the drop on us and we’re fucked.”
“Yeah, well, you got a meal. Get out while the getting’s good!”
“Jim, Jim! Come back!”
Mary nursed her swollen eye and Jill yelled for Jim to swim back. He pulled a knife the minute he was out of the water, but Theo was prepared. Jim looked at the wicked blade resting on Mike’s throat and dropped it.
Theo backed up and kicked the knife into the waves. Jill and Jim picked Mike up and walked off with Mary trailing behind, glaring. Theo watched them go and waited until they were out of sight. He followed the trail for several hundred yards, but they didn’t double back. He found Myrtle washing the knives when he got back.
“No, toss them. I think the blood was human and I’m just not risking it.
“I don’t think we’re staying here tonight, Little Tree.”
“Uh-uh, I don’t want native cannibals eating me in the dark.”
“I hope it’s not up to that, yet.” Theo said. He felt grim. “I think we have enough water to sluice off and store aboard. Let’s make tracks.”
They stood out to sea by late afternoon. Theo counted days on his fingers and shook his head. “We’re going to slow down, niece. The moon is almost new. It will be a while before we’ll be able to navigate before dawn.”
Myrtle nodded. Theo eyed her, checked the boat, the sail and the direction automatically and asked, “Why did you swim back to the boat? I never even noticed you were gone.”
“He was looking at me. The bus driver did that once… he’d give me candies and hug me… It was really bad when Mom and Dad found out. He lost his job and threatened them. He’d come around and look at me and Mom tried to strangle him.
A little incoherently, Myrtle said, “He looked at me and I didn’t… So I went to the boat, but he followed me. Mom told me that if the driver tried to grab to kick and scream and fight and bite and make a scandal. I didn’t think that would help, so I used the hook.”
“Spunky! and smart! You sure helped dealing with Jim while I did the rest. We’re going to be a lot more careful now.”
They settled to the task of getting to Oregon and finding BD. They traveled by far more slowly now. Their moonlit dawns that added miles to their days were gone. They fought their way up the coast, beating back and forth, twice through frightening storms, making only a few miles progress a day.
❀ ❁ ❀
BD pulled up at the junction of Hwy. 1 and 26. Thirty bikes stopped behind her, in apple pie order. “OK, time to spilt up. We’ve checked highway 30 and have a lot of information for m’Lord.
“We’ll do 26. See how many of the “farms” in the area are actually functional and have people or stock. Tell them that the Protectorate will help. Do not say anything about how m’Lord took over… Norman doesn’t need a grass roots resistance here.
“It’s a hard up and down ride back to Portland. We’ll split up as we go. Rodolfo, you and ten men go south around Tillamook. It’ll add 5 days which is why I’m sending you; you’ve got the most experience biking. Take care.
“Mateo, half your men are enroute to Vernonia via 202 and 47. They’ll cover the town as completely as possible and head out down 47. You concentrate on all the side roads north of 26 and join your men in Vernonia. We’ll all meet up on 26 by the Dairy Queen just east of the 47 junction. Sometime tomorrow in the late afternoon, early evening. I’ll take the southern back roads. I’m familiar with the area and the people so I can take that one by myself. Scout, you can come with me, or go with Mateo or Rodolfo.”
Scout frowned and pulled out his map. “I’ll go along Mateo,” he decided.
“OK,” said BD. “There are a lot of rough folks living out here; be careful”
Scout looked at her and shrugged. “If you don’t feel safe…” he half questioned.
BD shook her head; she wanted to get rid of Scout. “I’ve a short sword and two daggers; several switchblades, my single stick; I’m good. You saw me fight the ‘long pig eaters’ in St. Helen’s. I should be just fine.”
She shook away the vision of the mad, mad eyes behind a blood smeared ax. None of the cannibals had survived their angry, disgusted charge. There were no prisoners. St. Helen’s was a ghost town. They had camped away from it, sleeping uneasily in the burnt-out shell of a church.
The trip over the back roads was as grueling as she remembered; the more so on a bike than in a good car. Pausing only to eat she kept a steady pace. The sun had crossed the sky when BD reached her goal. A thin slice of road frontage concealed a large chunk of second growth forest. Old balloons, wrinkled and sad, fluttered from a ribbon at the gate. None of the farms here were “functional;” they were hobby farms for people who worked in Tillamook or Portland. Most of them were abandoned. As she wheeled her bike up the gravel path she smelled muck around the old fashioned pump. The red handle was in place and the grass trampled and sopping. Mud gleamed through bright green grass and she shook her head, looking up the graveled path.
The “porta-potty” wasn’t there. It was brought out on Memorial Day weekend. But the composting toilet… she hid her bike in the Dionysos shrine and walked quietly up the path; senses alert, her staff in her left hand, sword hilt near her right. All was quiet, but the stench from the composting toilet told a tale of over use.
She moved past the belt of trees to the “tumbledown” house and paused in the shade. They did a good job of making it look looted; but the woodpile’s intact and tarped. And none of that looted stuff belongs here. Still, looters will think this place is stripped already.
The two paths up the hill had vanished. It took several minutes to find the branches tied over the gaps, and the hemlock saplings that had been moved and replanted; wilted with transplant shock. She moved quietly to the side and ducked under branches, treading gingerly around the swamp behind “Tumbledown” and over to the left and then glanced at the sun for her north. The swamp gave the land it’s name of Gwar Gwyddion.
A low voice said… “Halt!”
BD looked up and spread her arms, still gripping the staff. “It’s BD.”
Her voice was quiet. The bushes rustled and a girl peeped out. “Mary!” she exclaimed shocked, “You cannot tell me your parents told you to challenge! You were supposed to get your butt up the mountain and report!”
“Yeah,” said the girl, “but it’s you. Where’s Myrtle?”
“Didn’t make it back from the Bay Area before all hell broke loose.” BD answered shortly. “Let’s go. I don’t have a lot of time.”
It was easier than she had expected, convincing them to move again. 25 adults and 5 children crowded the sacred land. She could hear more than 5 children yelling on the camping meadow. They had taken over the farms to the right and left, one a horse farm with pastures and 5 horses; the other a timber regrowth “opportunity.” They had heard stories of the Portland Protective Association. Their supplies were running out and streams of people wandered the roads. They listened when BD told them of Arminger’s ambitions.
She showed them the PPA marked maps of the areas Arminger wanted. “What about here?” asked Jon, finger on Silver Falls State Park.
“No,” said Wolf. “Not cultivation country. Hunting country, maybe, if this thing continues, in a year or so, but not now. What about the nemed past Suttertown? I’ve never been, but I’ve heard…”
“That’s a long trip. What’s more, I know Lady Juniper’s luck. She has a horse drawn caravan. It’s likely she survives and is there with her people.”
Rick, the smith, put his thumb on the map, “Not Silver Falls, but how about here just north and west of Silverton? It’s cultivated… We see hops growing on it every year, and vines, and wheat…”
BD hesitated. “Too close to Salem. It’s a real thorn. People are using strong arm authority gathering up all the food to ‘redistribute’ it.”
Humorless laughs barked out. “So we circle our wagons here?” asked Marah. She drew a circle west of Hwy. 214 on the map.
“Kyklos, our circle,” said Lady Martha, “Good place; good naming. How long do we have BD? Will you come with us?”
“Not coming at all. We can set up mail drops and signs. I’m going back. There are people who’ll need to be gotten out. I’ll stay as long as I can do some good. Hopefully I’ll set up another scouting expedition in May and visit. But as long as I can be a fifth column in the Protectorate, I’ll stay there.”
“You wouldn’t be doing that if Myrtle were here, honey!”
BD bit her lip savagely. Trust Raisa to twist the knife and then act innocent. “No, I wouldn’t. But she isn’t here and we‘re not going to survive if we don’t make plans.”
Rick nodded at the maps. “BD, I left all my smith stuff at home, it’s heavy. Can I get back in and get it out?”
“Not! Period. Not your place. It’s in the heart of the Protectorate and you’ll be grabbed and pressed. Tell me what you need and where I can find more smithing stuff. I’ll get my scavengers to store it in Wilsonville; you know the place, Jon. I’m squirreling away stuff all over the place. Norman approves; he doesn’t want it despoiled. He has lists and lists of stuff and warehouses…”
“Incomplete,” stated Jon.
BD nodded; he understood. “Do you have a list of where people were going? I won’t be able to get out to anybody else, and we need to consider planting, too. Wolf, you grew up on a farm, right?”
Wolf nodded. Marah pulled out a shabby little notebook. Her group and their Mt. Hood refuge were in it. BD grimaced as she ran down the list.
“How many do we need to tell to run?”
“Everybody… damn! It won’t happen overnight, but Norman’s plans include all of our hideouts. I suggest, hmmm… Let’s see, go to Tillamook, that will take you past five of the groups. You can also pick up cheese cultures; round up farm animals of all sorts, head around on 22 to Amity and then scoot north past Kiezer… that will be tricky — staying out of the “redistributors” way.
“Once you’ve grabbed the land, send out people towards Bend and Boring and Hood River.”
“Aren’t they going to be safe?”
“Nobody on this list is going to be safe. We all settled in too close to the Protectorate.”
“Is he a religious nut? Do you think he’ll get us for pagans?”
“Not so much a religious nut as a nut who uses religion to get what he wants.”
“Hmmm, are the Jews still there or did he run them out? They lived near you, no?”
“They’re not there. But Arminger didn’t run them out. They hit a jackpot. The day after the change they were going to have a series of lectures on the kibbutz of Israel. Cool guy, been living on kibbutz' all his life and some others, his sons and daughters. By the 24th they headed down I-5, led by their new Moses.”
“Which Jews?” demanded Wolf.
“All of them! Headed down the highway, stated objective, Medford.”
“Yup, black coats, curly locks, modern clothes and everything in between… from the littlest baby to the eldest elder. They walked out of the Jewish Center along Capitol Hill to the I-5 on ramp. They had bicycles, wheelbarrows, some car trailers and shopping carts.”
BD laughed… “It was quite a sight! They had them wired together in trains. Bikes galore were outriders or loaded down and pushed. I hope I can check later if they made it to Medford.” A sudden memory surprised a laugh out of her. “Which side of the highway do you think they went down?”
Jon frowned, “Southbound, no?”
Rick shook his head. “No, they drive English style don’t they? They went down the Northbound lanes.”
“Both,” said BD. “See, we think in terms of one side or the other… This guy… The kibbutznik said that they had to make as compact a mass as they could and they needed to take up all the lanes possible. It was funny hearing them argue it was illegal to take the north bound lanes south. They were armed with the oddest weapon; those extending pruning hooks and saws. Looked a bit like a halberd. They also had staffs and were practicing single stick. I figure they’ll make it.”
Jill and Martha stood up. “We need to eat. One last thing, BD. We’ve got a tad of a problem on our hands. Last week we got a pied piper.”
BD nodded. “I thought I heard too many kid voices; how many?” she asked.
“Twenty seven kids; five adults. They’re all gone…”
“Except the kids.”
“Most of them. I counted 21 noses yesterday. Can you take them back to the Protectorate? We can’t feed them or ourselves much longer.”
“Nope, I wouldn’t do that. Wish a serf’s life on them? We’ll need them and they need us. In a year they’ll be ours. Adopt them; we all need each other. I’m snatching as many orphans as I can out of the slave coffles.”
“OK, what does that Protector think of fostering?”
“He doesn’t care. He’s into making people serfs. If the serfs take in littles that’s up to them.”
“How did he know what was happening?” asked Iris, in an abrupt subject switch.
BD shook her head. “He put the data together, just like I did those first few minutes and hours. I heard he was downtown trying to post bail for a gang member. He had a few more clues than I did. It doesn’t matter!
“I’ll set up the warehouse in Wilsonville, off the first exit to the east. You can ‘sneak,’ and I mean ‘sneak’ very carefully into Portland. Don’t go past… hmm, use Powell as a boundary, and E 60th, North and South, I think. On the westside, Tualitin, Tigard, maybe Lake Oswego for a few months. Norm plans to burn large chunks of north-east Portland. We’ll never need those houses. I’m trying to change his mind on that. I expect trouble with mosquitoes next year and for many years on; all the empty basements gapping to the sky and filling with rainwater.”
Groans greeted this pronouncement. They argued, planned and wrangled late into the night. BD scattered incense on the campfire and made “puja” to Ganesha, for new beginnings, prayed to Hermes and to Hekate of the triple crossroads for safety on the dangerous path she was taking. Late in the morning she left, sure her people would get out.
❀ ❁ ❀
She’d done what she could. She quickly checked all the farms and homes she knew along the road to Hwy. 26. It was downhill most of the way to the Dairy Queen on 26, with a couple of steep, scary slopes. The sun backlit her and her shadow stretched on the road in front of her when she arrived. Scout and Mateo were waiting for her and they had a prize. “Who’s this?” she asked.
“Allow me,” said Scout, grinning, “to introduce to your regard, Most Reverend Father Landon Rule, Bishop of Mill Creek, Washington. He was visiting St. Mary’s Church in Vernonia when it all went to pot.”
BD felt her jaw drop as she stared at the unprepossessing man. Scout looked like a cat with a canary carefully held in his jaws… or maybe a retriever with a nice little duck. Just what Norman wants and… She bit her lip. He’s crazy as a coot. Look at him! I’ve seen caged feral cats who were saner!
“In fact, he nearly ended up in the pot, himself!”
BD gasped as Mateo nodded. “We killed them Doña! Muy muertos!” he said, savagely.
BD sympathized. The bishop lifted his head; his motions as feral as the cats she used to trap. “God has tilled us… harrowed us, pruned us! I will do God’s will! Repent! Repent!” He stared wildly at BD and her hackles rose.
Scout put a hand on the man’s shoulder and he jumped, turning and snarling. “In time, you shall call those multitudes whom God has favored to repent.” he said quietly. His Eminence calmed.
“So you shall,” agreed BD. Mateo and his men were showing the whites of their eyes at Rule’s behavior. “We might as well camp here; it’s late. We can set up a fire inside and defend ourselves, just in case the cannibals have relatives.”
Scout and Mateo nodded. They sat the Reverend Bishop in a booth. Twice BD opened her mouth to ask, and twice closed it. They were hungry but the haggard priest didn’t eat. He stared at his plate of food, but wouldn’t touch it.
Darkness fell and Mateo set guards. The rest crowded around the small hot fire, half facing outward. Laconically Scout told her of finding the cannibals… the bones of children littered on the ground, the dying adults, unfed and unwatered. The tracks of scavengers; raccoons, possums, crows and shrews that gnawed the rotting remains fleeing from their horror stricken yells.
Mateo chimed in, telling how his men had charged the crazy men, disgust overriding caution. Some had scrambled away pushing carts and bikes.
BD sighed. The words of the poet Antonio Machado and the music of Serrat welled up. “he visto caravanas de tristeza…” To her surprise Landon sat up and sang back, “soberbios y melancólicos,”
Without missing a beat they completed the song. Her latino troops applauded. Looking saner, his Eminence said, “I lived in Andalusia for ten years after I finished seminary in Italy.” He shook his head and announced in deep tones, “Dijo una voz popular:”
BD listened to his beautifully trained voice chant the first stanza and chimed in as he began to sing the second. Her voice ached with the wild, wailing music of Andalusian gypsies that Serrat had used for this poem, “Oh, la saeta, el cantar al Cristo de los gitanos….”
As the last notes of their impromptu a capella concert faded Landon nodded, and looking like a feral cat once more, shot a glance at Scout. “I won’t kill myself, then. I’ll go see this Protector of yours. Maybe he is a rainbow; we were promised rainbows.”
BD frowned and asked, “If I give you rice, will you eat that? And clean water to drink and wash in?”
The man looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “No unclean food? You are eating unclean food!”
“Ah,” said BD. “No. We are NOT eating humans. This is beef jerky… we got it from CostCo. I’ll make you a rice soup instead. I have some dried broccoli, too.”
His Eminence didn’t answer, but he wolfed the soup down. He rolled himself up in his blanket and seemed to fall right asleep.
BD waited until she was sure he was asleep. “Did he say he was going to kill himself?” she asked. “If he’s a Catholic Bishop… he wouldn’t kill himself!”
Scout shook his head. “He was pretty cuckoo when we got him out of the cage, mouthing on about the harrowing and tilling at the end of days. You’ve got a nice little double coup for the Protector; a treaty with the Coast Guard in Astoria and a prelate to work with him.”
“We have a nice set of coups. You found the Reverend Bishop, he’s your prize.” As she slipped into her sleeping bag, she saw Mateo’s white teeth grin. Her troops knew she never let somebody take blame or credit for what wasn’t theirs. By the size of the grin, Mateo had told Scout what she would do and he hadn’t believed him.
❀ ❁ ❀
Norman’s glee on receiving the bishop made BD glad to leave the credit in Scout’s hands. She made her report to Norm and gave him his copy of the treaty with Eagleston. The Protector had a new bodyguard, an Oriental with startling blue eyes and a ‘tude. BD ignored him, but her alarms jangled. Norman was more than happy to reward her with more to do. He called for “My count” and shortly a heavyset man walked through the door.
“Renfrew!” BD exclaimed, “You made it back from Eugene!”
“Springfield, too; what a bloody mess!”
“I can just imagine… or maybe I can’t and it’s good.” BD shook hands as they walked out of the audience chamber. “So, what does Norman want?”
“I’m his new accountant, “count” you know… and I need to know where your scavengers are putting things.”
“Of course! This is great; it’s really needed. Sandra was trying, but she has more than enough to do with the horses, right now.
“And how is My Lady?”
“Not well; will you see her?”
“Certainly. I’ll be down to talk with you later.”
❀ ❁ ❀
“So his name is Liu, Eddie Liu, and he’s a greedy little sot. Bloodthirsty, too.”
BD chewed her lip. “Nothing there to make Norm dislike him, all to the contrary.”
In the weeks since her trip to Astoria and the Coastal ranges she and Renfrew had established systems. She had kept her secrets. He isn’t auditing me, yet. So far so good.
Meanwhile, Vigilia was one of Norman’s ‘bunny girls’ sent down the road. Though a skilled SCA fighter, she’d taken the horizontal position, having doubts she could kill. Norman didn’t know of her fighting skills, she’d moved to the area only weeks before the change. BD knew because she was a witch, a solitary whom she’d run into in one of the shops. It’s a pity I just found her. Returning to that mess George, Dana, and Jill made of playing one-up wasn’t much fun after thinking on my feet with Conrad. Norman and Conrad still doubt I can control my people. Vigilia could have kept things under control if she’d been with me as my second from the first.
Well, sending over a hundred people down the road as punishment helped. What Norm and Conrad don’t know is that I sent them to the Kyklos and Mt. Angel by way of Boring. All my obvious witches and a lot of skilled people were in that exodus. Thank heavens Conrad gave me the heads up about the mess in Salem. The list of talents she was stealing from the Protectorate included valuable fiber artists, smiths, veterinarians, nurses, midwives, cobblers…
She focused on the two sitting with her. “Mateo, you, Rodolpho and Vigilia are each officers of the watch. Shift rotate every week. I have you and Rodolfo on borrowed time, so give Vigilia everything you’ve learned and guessed. Once Emiliano wants you back, she’ll have to take up the slack your loss will cause us. I think Drahzy will loan me my next troops and Vigilia will take top slot then.
“Now, select enough guards to man a post 24/7 at the docks under the Sellwood bridge, just off MacAdam. Eagleston, the Captain of the Coast Guards will send me boats, and that’s the rendezvous we set up. I have a some independent scavengers operating out there. If he sends me a boat, it’ll be one of my scavengers and one of Eagleston’s river pilots. The names they use are: Scav One; Richard Lion Toes, Scav Alpha, Alpha One, Scav the Beast. If any of them come in, bring them to me. The pilot too; even if he’s here to see the Protector; I screen him first.
“That should keep you guys busy and out of mischief.”
As her captains of the watch left she heard the notes of dominance in their voices. With a sigh she dropped her head into her hands… if only she had somebody who could also pull together her independently minded villagers. She really needed to be twins.
❀ ❁ ❀
Theo sighed. We were going so fast until the new moon. Now… I’ve no idea where we are. Those places I thought were ports… But this coast! He dared not sail close to the rock strewn shore. Unable to make the dusk run out to sea because of the dark nights and because of the two storms, Theo had completely lost any sense of where they were. A chart was all very well, but one needed an idea of where to look on the chart to make use of it.
To the south and east the evening sun glinted on the windows of a town on either side of a river gap. I wish I had binoculars or a telescope. “We’re going to have to go in close and decide if it’s Newport or Lincoln City.”
His niece’s face was a study of stern duty and fear. They had bypassed Eureka, a town in flames, before putting in once more for water. She had not forgotten the first landing. They had chosen their little beach and river very carefully. There had been no tramps turned bandits to disrupt their two days ashore.
The situation was getting serious. All the food they had left was rice and a few cans of veggies. The fuel for the stove had run out, and they had been reduced to soaking the rice in water for hours and then chewing the glutinous stuff. It stuck in their teeth and left a rank taste in their mouth. Water was low again.
“How ‘bout we creep in before dawn? The moon’s up; it’ll be safer.”
Theo nodded. He woke her before dawn began to tinge the sky with light. A stiff breeze blew. He worried as they came closer to shore. He wanted the rock strewn coast well to the west. As they worked their way east they fought wild currents.
Swiveling about, juggling each nuance of the unknown waters keyed Theo up. Myrtle was flat on the prow, watching the sea, looking ahead for rocks under water. Out of the dawn’s louring light a ship slipped up on them. Theo nearly tacked east and ran. Dawn was a brilliant gleaming ring on the mountainous horizon inland and the boat, a large yacht, neatly and newly masted, was labeled CGC50327. The disciplined bunch crewing her were in uniform. Theo held his breath; Did the change not happen here? he wondered. Naw! That’s a sailboat. No way the Coast Guard is patrolling in a sailboat if the suppression effect didn’t happen here.
The boat luffed and a cheerful voice hailed them. “Ahoy there! Coast Guard Cutter 27 out of Astoria! Can we help?”
Myrtle squeaked and jumped up. Theo hesitated. Astoria? We passed Newport and Lincoln City without ever seeing them? What’s that town I’ve been looking at? Did the storms push us that far out? Astoria? Are they safe? Damn, have to trust at some point, again.
“Ahoy. We’re the Firefly, out of Vallejo on March 20. We’re trying to get to Portland. I need to go east on the Columbia river, right?”
The crew of the CGC50327 maneuvered their boat close, rope tires over the side cushioning the shock. “Well, you’re here. That’s what’s left of Seaside and Gearhart. The Columbia River mouth is just past the Warren Promontory, that way. Astoria is inside on the river bank.” The man pointed. “I’m Lt. Wren. Why Portland?”
“My sister lives there, I’m hoping to find her.”
“May I come aboard? If you’re going over the bar you need me. I’m a Bar pilot. Then you need somebody to pilot you up the river. Captain Eagleston needs somebody to do that run… it isn’t an easy sail and he has dispatches for the Protector.”
Theo said quietly to Myrtle, “Pack. Just to be safe you’re a seven year old boy I found lost. I call you ‘Hiawatha.’ You decided to come with me out of Vallejo because I look like a real uncle.”
His niece flashed him a snooty look and vanished into the cabin, pulling the repaired door shut. Theo waved. “Come aboard, if you’re a pilot!”
He got a shock when the man landed, cat-like, on his scuppers. He was not a young blond, but a grizzled silver, much too old to be working the sea in Theo’s opinion. “What’s this ‘the bar?’” Theo asked him.
Lt. Wren tapped the chart Theo had gotten off the Hawaiian Chieftain. “The bar is a sand and debris bar at the mouth of the Columbia. It’s very treacherous; rated one of the worst maritime hazards in the world. Only five of us bar pilots are left. We’re training more; fast. As sails return, we’ll be needed, and we won’t have all our nice electronic toys to help, either.”
Lt. Wren navigated the bar into the Columbia River. The ride over the bar was dangerous as advertised. Myrtle stood close to Theo most of the time, a knit cap on her head; her thumb in her mouth and a blank expression on her face. She looks closer to five than seven, he thought. Lt. Wren patted her head and said, “Don’t you worry, now, son. We’ll get her in, just fine!” Theo was glad Wren couldn’t see her face. Four weeks in her company had taught him that she had a poor opinion of most adults.
By the time they docked Theo felt he had sweated pounds off and Myrtle had ripped off one of his belt loops. There was an ensign standing guard on the dock. He saluted Lt. Wren. Explanations were fast. Theo was facing the commander of the Astoria Coast Guard in 15 minutes. Captain Eagleston had an office overlooking the Columbia, sparkling in the early morning light. The Captain had all his attention. He acts like he actually knows us… How?
“Theo Ridder… and young Hiawatha…” he mused. Theo felt Myrtle tense up. “Theo Ridder… you look like BD Loba. A lot like BD, in fact, under that bush of a beard.” While Theo gapped, the man tilted Myrtle’s chin. She wrenched away. Before Theo could do anything, the Captain knelt by Myrtle. “It’s been two years, but I remember you, Myrtle,” he said softly. “We’ll keep the fiction of Hiawatha; it’s safer, but BD was alive just two weeks ago and to the best of my knowledge, now.”
Myrtle threw her arms around Theo’s waist hiding the tears soaking his shirt. “Loba, why do you call her Loba?”
“That’s the name she uses for SCA stuff.
“We’ve a lot to talk about. This whole ‘change’ thing is mind boggling; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen ‘blind luck’ this month. You arriving and finding us just two weeks after she came to help me is all of a piece.”
Myrtle, still disguised, was soon drinking real hot chocolate and real chicken noodle soup and eating real bread in the cafeteria while Theo ate off a tray in Captain Eagleston’s office.
More than his relationship to BD, he had information. Information was priceless now. The Captain questioned him about the change in the Bay Area and his trip north. His face was grim and harsh as he listened.
“The Hawaiian Chieftain and the Lady Washington passed one of my patrol boats 10 days ago, course set for Grey’s Harbor. Three days ago, Wren saw them before they stood out for Hawai’i. They told him the entire SeaTac area is a maggot heap.”
“Damn! They offered me a berth if I didn’t find BD.”
“I’ll give you a berth! You sailed an unknown coast and got here safe and with a kid in tow; I’ll gladly add you to our rolls.” Theo read his sincerity and relaxed. As he ate Captain Eagleston shared Astoria’s story since the evening of March 17th, and what BD had told him of Arminger and Portland.
“She’s alive and well in the ‘Portland Protective Association.’ She’s not happy. We had several confidential talks about the ‘Lord Protector’ and how I could best protect my people. She negotiated a treaty with us that gets my river pilots to work clearing out the Columbia of the debris the change left. The ‘Protector’ chap gets the spoils, and I don’t get ocean going metal ships cluttering the bar.
“She was crushed over the loss of her kid, but carrying on. I know she’s worried about what this new society is going to look like and is trying to fix it from the inside.
“What happened to Dalish, by the way?”
“Who?” Theo asked. “Oh! Jordan! He was at Edwards AFB in So-Cal near as I can tell.”
The captain winced. “Working on those computer programs to control landing sequences, wasn’t he?”
Theo nodded and Eagleston shook his head. “Probably didn’t survive. All those planes coming home to land at dusk… and crashing. The first thing I had to order was road blocks. I couldn’t allow any of the tons of refugees to come in. Harsh! Such harsh measures to take! The town fought me on it… They were all for opening the doors and feeding everyone. Numbers… it took hard numbers to make them see reason. A lot didn’t. People went looking for missing family. The ones that came back, we let in, but nobody else. We had riots and fights; I controlled the food supply from the second day. Fishing?” he gave a short bark of laughter, “They thought we could pull in a bounty of fishing and save the world. Fishing off a sail boat is very different from seining fish with a trawler!”
Theo nodded as he gulped down the last of the freshly baked bread and butter. “This is good; we’ve been eating rice soaked in water for the past three days; out of fuel and almost out of food.”
Captain Eagleston nodded. “We had several warehouses with supplies. I took over them at once and grabbed all the grocery stores. I consolidated all the farms and animals I could. And there were two grain ships under anchor waiting for a sister ship in Portland. The Protector got that one.
”All the farms and farmers came into town, but, Astoria isn’t built for defense, though it’s not as open as Seaside and Canon Beach are. Keeping the town intact and raiders out was…” Eagleston shook his head, his eyes hooded. “Harsh.” he said at last.
Theo nodded. The strict measures would get Astoria through the next months as they shifted to a local food economy. Remembering the food shortages that periodically hit Mexico City due to rumors, he knew the cities that didn’t burn would be death traps as the food ran out.
“Now, BD has a special position in the Protectorate. Most of the people are either long time cronies of Arminger’s he trusts, or have surrendered hostages. I understand that BD has known him a long time, but isn’t a crony, and she has charge of all the hostages; but hasn’t surrendered one herself.
“So I don’t think you should go there as her brother, or with her daughter. I heard about this guy and he’s pretty twisted. I’ll let BD tell you; she knows more.
“We set up some codes. If I found somebody I thought she could use or needed, I was to send them up under a code name. So take that boat: I’ll send a pilot. I have to send one anyway. Tell them you are ‘Scav One.’ That’s the red flag code. It will get you to BD before the Protector.”
“Good, Jim’ll get you to BD’s dock off the Sellwood Bridge. He’ll carry letters to the Protector… and you’ll carry letters to BD.“
Theo felt his head spin. The repeated warnings about Arminger worried him. There’s something Eagleston isn’t telling me; something important. He scowled at Eagleston.
“Too fast a data dump?”
“Much too fast,” said Theo warily. “You’re trusting I’m telling the truth, but there is something you’re holding back.“
Captain Eagleston shrugged. “Nothing concrete. Just vague worries. In so far as trust goes, I recognize Myrtle, and you look a lot like your sister. Trust has to start somewhere. I’m sending you to her as a token of my trust in our plans.”
Theo shook his head, nodded, shrugged and looked out at the Columbia. “Things went to pot rather fast in the Bay Area and I got out as best I could. I’ve been at sea ever since. The idea of my sister mixed up with somebody like Arminger… it’s hard to imagine. She’s never had trouble telling people where to go and what to do when they get there.”
“Maybe,” said Captain Eagleston dryly. “But she’s probably never faced 30 inches of cold steel or starvation before.”
Theo gulped. Damn! Do I want to take Myrtle into that? Maybe I should stay here and wait for her to come back this way. Or at least leave Myrtle. He voiced the thought. “Maybe I should stay here, or at least leave my niece here.”
Captain Eagleston shook his head. “Do go see her. With all the broken families in this, you shouldn’t pass up your own sister. And she’s hurting over Myrtle.
“Go, then come back. I promise you a berth if you don’t want to stay there. Anybody who can sail up the coast in that dinky little boat can sail in my Coast Guard.”
Theo and Myrtle spent the morning cleaning out the “FireFly” and lodged with a Coast Guard family that evening. Showers, a floor that didn’t move to the rhythm of the waves and beds in separate rooms were the epitome of luxury. Jim, the river pilot, came over to review the trip up the Columbia.
Early the next morning, Theo and Myrtle, comfortably full of bacon, eggs, and fresh bread, trucked their provisions to the dock.
“Good! Bright and early!” Jim said, coming behind them and helping get the hand truck over the rails near the dock. “These days are just in the middle of the dark and light. It’ll be the spring Equinox soon. If we can make St. Helens by lunch time, I’ll risk trying for the Sellwood Bridge mooring before nightfall.”
Theo glanced at the river charts Jim placed on the chart table. This river! It’s just squirrelly! I’m glad Jim’s here. Nobody could navigate this river without really knowing it.
Theo and Myrtle cast off under Jim’s direction and set to with a will. Portland and BD were within their reach, at last. For several hours they tacked gently along the Columbia with the sun in their eyes. “Longview!” shouted Jim. “It’s about ten, I think. The Trojan nuclear power plant is just up north, there! It’s been shut down for five or six years now. The river is going to bend south and the sun will be out of our eyes.”
Tacking on the wide river was easier than Theo had feared. Current’s strong, and the wind is, too. Pity it’s blowing downstream, but still…
Close to noon they saw a town on the right bank. “We’ll go on to Scapoose, I think. Loba said there were eaters in the ruins of St. Helens.”
“Eaters?” asked Theo.
Jim cast a sly glance at the child he thought was a boy. “Cannibals — didn’t our fearless leader tell you?”
“No.” Theo clamped his mouth shut on sudden hot words. Damn! Myrtle did hear that! Why’d he do that? It was deliberate, too!
“Shy little boy. I thought he’d break out of his funk with something interesting like that to talk about.”
Theo stared at him and understood. “I don’t know enough about the boy,” he lied. “But I found him watching a man die of a stab wound; we fled the fire together, and fought off four thieves trying to kill us a few days later.
“Maybe he would have found it interesting if he hadn’t had such graphic examples of the reality already.”
Jim turned red.
“There was no way you could have known…” said Theo, sorry for his embarrassment.
They sailed to Scapoose in an uncomfortable silence only broken by Myrtle’s warning calls and Jim’s sparse sailing orders. They anchored a good 50 yards from the bank and shared out sandwiches. Jim shared his binoculars. The town was silent under a chill blue sky. Fields that should have had gently moving herds of sheep and cows, or cavorting horses were still. Theo could see that fire had marked the town. There were rotting bodies, human and animal, stripped bones near what appeared to have been a bonfire. He shuddered. Myrtle reached out her hand for the binoculars and Theo handed them over reluctantly. BD never kept cold, uncomfortable truths from her. And this one is a reality she didn’t need to live through, but needs to see happened.
This change has ‘changed’ all of us. I hope BD is still BD. ‘Loba’ they are calling her. Has she become a lone wolf? Or are Myrtle and I her pack?
Such thoughts didn’t improve his mood.
Jim showed him the next leg of the journey, southbound on the majestic and complicated Columbia River. Theo sighed. “Look at all those channels and islands and dead end sloughs!”
Jim nodded, pulling out two flags. One was the Coast Guard flag, the other a black one with a red slit pupiled eye on it. “Let’s put these up. It’ll get us through Portland with no questions or stopping.
“We’ll go around Sauvie’s Island portside. There is a narrow channel starboard and a bridge that makes using the boat too tricky. After that, we’ll pass under all the bridges of Portland. They used to call it ‘Bridgetown.’ There are 11 bridges. The last one is the Sellwood Bridge. That’s where BD wants us to moor.”
They cast off on the last leg of their journey. Theo watched the banks slip past. I’m sorry we’re doing this under these circumstances. This would be wonderful; to spend 10 days going up and down the Columbia in a boat. I wish I could talk to Myrtle about it, sort of like a ‘Great Northern’ Ransome adventure. But she’s gone mute. I don’t think she likes Jim. Theo grimaced wryly. I wonder why?
Still, as they sailed south, Theo was glad once again for their river pilot. He could see all the errors he could make as a novice, blind channels, sandbars, debris. It was two in the afternoon when they ran under the St. John’s Bridge. “I heard tell that the guy who designed or built the Eiffel tower built this bridge. I don’t know if it is true or not.”
Theo shook his head, “I doubt it, but I wouldn’t really know, either!” he yelled admiring the beautiful catenary curve. Beyond the bridge the Columbia was impressively wide.
Myrtle, on the prow, watched the suspension bridge tower pass. This is her home and those bridges are her symbols. They sailed under the Burlington Northern Bridge, and banked towards the Willamette. The soaring arch of the Fremont Bridge passed… The downtown had a park along the river front, starboard side. Theo could see people moving around purposefully. Jim named the bridges as they sailed under each one. Each one was different. The Broadway, the Steel, the Burnside, the Morrison, the Hawthorne and the sweeping I-5 bridge - the Marquam, the Ross Island Bridge. They approached the last bridge and veered into a small dock at it’s foot. “The Sellwood Bridge,” Jim announced. People armed with staff or sword were standing guard on the dock. Jim, Theo and Myrtle brought the Firefly to rest neatly where the staff-men signaled them.
Theo looked at the armed man at the head of the troop and spoke in the spanish of his youth, “¡Que tal! Soy Scav One. Busco a La Loba.” It felt odd to refer to his sister by the nickname she had earned in high school.
The man grinned and shook his hand. “Bien venido. La Loba told us to watch for you. We call her La Bella Beatriz! Where do you come from?”
“I’ve just come from Astoria. She’ll need to talk to me.”
“Bien! She told us to look for you. ¿Y esé? ¿Quien es.. son?”
Theo nodded and introduced Jim. Myrtle was pretending to be a scared little boy. “La Loba told me not to leave children to die.”
As they talked a troop formed up. The leader said, “I’ll take you to BD. Mateo, be well.”
“Y tu,” answered the man, saluting her.
“I’m Vigilia,” the woman introduced herself. “You’re Scav One? We’ve been hoping you’d get here. BD’s been waiting. Who’s the kid?”
“Boy I picked up when I was on the run from a mob. Figured BD wouldn’t want me to leave the child on it’s own.”
“Right! It’s about three miles and the first mile and a half is all uphill. Max, put the kid on the donkey. He won’t be able to keep up.”
Theo sighed with relief. I know I’m in better shape than I was, but I’m not carrying Myrtle uphill for a mile and a half! He hiked his waistband absent-mindedly, noticing his shorts bunching out from under the belt. The hike up Taylor’s Ferry was every bit as steep as Vigilia had said. They walked over the main highway. Theo supposed it was I-5; a tangled mess of useless cars. They walked down and along a narrow straight road. “Multnomah Blvd.,” Theo read. It’s late and I’m deadly tired. When are we going to get to BD? Shortly they arrived at a large house set back from the road. A horse drawn buggy stood in a graveled driveway; the driver in top hat and tails. Theo thought of Central Park. The soldiers standing guard looked dangerous, clad in chain mail or hauberks, armed with swords and cocked crossbows. Theo heard Vigilia groan. She halted and saluted smartly.
The leader of the guards was a skinny oriental with blue eyes. He ignored Vigilia’s salute. Theo could see the small twitch of his mouth. He’s getting a real kick out of making Vigilia play his game.
I’m tired; I’ve been tired for way too long. I’m not playing mind games with a flunky. “Hi!” he boomed. “Who are you? Where’s BD? I’ve got a big fat report to give her. You in the mood to face her with an explanation for your shit head games making Scav One wait?”
Did I really do that? Well, I read the little shit correctly, look at him try to find his high ground, again. A welcome voice called, “Junach kotan, kermanotah!”
“Toyol kotan,” Theo suddenly realized he couldn’t remember the last two words to answer the greeting and faked it hurriedly, “hitan kotah!”
“What the fuck language is that?” asked a man. BD and he stood by the living room window. BD was laughing. “Haven’t a clue!” she said cheerfully. “I was taught it in middle school by a Marist Priest. It’s one of the many languages of Chiapas. It’s as good an ID as I could cobble for my Scav’s.
“Hey, Scav One, how you doing?”
“Info, a kid and a boat… ah and a river pilot in lieu of taxes, I presume for this gentleman?”
“Vigilia, take the child back to Doña Marta. Scav One, go meet Doña Marta Sequeiros. She’ll feed you, point you to the bathroom and set you up in a room somewhere. I’ll see you later. Liu, the river pilot goes back with the Lord Protector, so you get to feed him.”
BD and Arminger vanished back into the room. Theo followed Vigilia past Arminger’s deadly guard. Marta sat him down to a bowl of rich meaty stew, bread, butter, and glass of coke while she bustled Myrtle off to a bath. Theo ate, listening to the carefree conversation from the front.
Marta came back, served him cake and coffee, handed him towels, clothes, and flip-flops. So far she hadn’t spoken. Theo opened his mouth to ask a question; Marta shook her head violently and nodded to the open kitchen window. Theo looked. Two men of the armed guards lounged against the wall. Eagleston’s comments on BD’s lack of a hostage came back.
He soaked in the bathtub, showered off and rubbed down with clean towels. Refreshed, he dressed in the borrowed clothes. He searched for a razor, and then hesitated. If I look like BD, maybe I’d better keep the bush Eagleston said hid me.
He found Myrtle asleep, clutching her ugly little doll and kissed her. Downstairs the sounds of farewell, the mustering of the guard, the clop of hooves told him the guests were leaving.
Marta wasn’t in the kitchen. He served himself more cake and coffee and waited. BD came in and dropped into a chair. “You brought my daughter back! You brought her back!” Tears fell over cheeks that looked aged and worn to Theo in the gathering gloom. BD looked very different from the carefree, jeweled woman who stood beside Arminger just a short time before. She reached her hands across the table.
Theo squeezed her hands. “All in a day’s work!” he said, dismissing the intense emotions.
BD sighed and sat up. “Tell me what happened.” Theo told his story as she fixed herself a cup of tea and a slice of the cake. “So Vigilia put Myrtle on the donkey, thinking she was a little boy and we walked here. When are you going to go and see her?”
“Idiot!” said BD, with a grin, “I kissed her and sobbed over her while she was having her bath. And she said, ‘Oh, Mom! I’m fine!’ and let me dry her and put her to bed and kiss her goodnight.”
“What, the guy didn’t ask why you were missing so long?”
“They know I have tummy problems, and don’t ask.”
“Ah, well, let me tell you my misadventures with Sandra and Norman Arminger. And the entire Portland Protective Association. You’ll need to watch it with Eddie Liu. You did the right thing, if there is a ‘right thing’ to do with that mad ferret. He’ll try to get you to knuckle under and admit his dominance. Crazy git!
“At any rate; I was going to head out by the 20th for Hood River when Norman and Sandra came a-knocking…”
The tale took them through several cups of coffee and tea and slices of cake. BD lit a lantern. The warm glow made the kitchen friendly and welcoming.
Theo choked hearing about the deaths of the mayor and the chief of police; of Norman’s deliberate spilling of blood to cement the new order. “Is this something only he does?”
“No, most of his noble followers have killed by now. He’s testing people; using the arena with his more seasoned followers.”
Theo reached for the coffee pot. “How have you escaped shoving a sword in somebody?” The peculiar quality of the silence from his sister brought his head around.
BD’s eyes were black and blank; her expression bleak. “I haven’t escaped. Just a few days after I took over the hostages, I went to get maps. When I got back I found one of the guards Norman left on me cutting the clothing off a 13 year old hostage. He’d sliced her up, because she’d struggled. Another of the guards was holding a knife to her mother’s throat and all the hostages were cowering in terror.
“He saw me and grinned. He didn’t say anything, just sliced open the child’s bra, and her breast. I was wearing my ‘sword like object,’ but nobody had seen me use weapons. Ormelas turned his back and I pulled the sword and lunged. It went in just above his kidney. He screamed and curled around it. The blade broke and I put the hilt and the jagged edge to his throat. Salazar took the knife away from the mother, and I pulled my switch blade.
“By then all twelve guards were there. The three with me had their machetes out. They herded Manriquez and Salazar away from the hostages and told the hostages to take care of the mother and daughter.”
For a long moment BD was quiet. “I hadn’t hit anything vital in Ormelas, and he knew he had to be still if he wanted to survive.”
“I take it he never got to the doctor?”
BD shook her head. “I cut open his pants and off his balls. I’d said I’d do that. I told them so on the first day; te quito el pajaro y los huevos y se los pueden comer.
“It was like a red fire burning. I reacted; and yet; it was all so clear, is so clear in my mind. I knew I had to kill him; I wanted to kill him. The red burned like heat waves. I wanted him to bleed and suffer. And so I cut him and stuffed his mouth and made Manriquez and Salazar take him into town.”
Theo tried to get his breath as his sister sat, white-faced. Slowly her black eyes returned to blue and she looked at him again. “No one wants to make me kill in the arena after that little spectacle. Arminger saw to it that Manriquez and Salazar died there.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Theo woke the next morning, stretched, turned over and fell back asleep. Later he woke and heard his niece chattering; the clash of a guard detachment, carts and bicycles passing, the riders exchanging cheerful greetings. It was almost noon and he found Marta in the kitchen. After chowing down eggs, bacon, toast and coffee he went to find BD.
The village was small, cute and 1920’s, alive with people, all working, busy and cheerful. A block further on and another uphill was a modern bank branch. BD had headquarters there. Most of the windows were covered with detail maps of Oregon and Washington.
In the front of the bank children loaded dead cats and dogs onto a wheelbarrow and counted. An adult tallied them. BD waved Theo back into her office. There were charts on the walls, papers piled up, overflowing filing cabinets and a feeling of things being accomplished.
“Does knowing you are keeping people alive help you put up with the Protector?” he asked.
“Nope. I’m gone as soon as I’ve gotten as many people as I can out. Well, no, that and Sandra has her baby.”
“The Lady Protector?’
“Yeah. She doesn’t believe she’s pregnant… but I’m convinced it happened right on the change. She’s sick, and I’m worried. I think there is something else also wrong.”
“Were you close to her before?”
“Before the change? You know, I wasn’t. I made her clothes for SCA events. She’d pass them off as hers. But… I’m worrying.”
“So, it’s about getting people out?”
“No…” she gave him a wolfish grin. “I’ve been stashing a lot of stuff; things they don’t think they’ll need, hiding them here and there. I’m running 25 bike wagon gangs, moving things all over the place…” she waved her hands at the maps. “Renfrew hasn’t a clue what extra stuff is on this map. He thinks he knows my codes.”
“Huh,” Theo said. “What will you do then?”
“I’ve friends setting up out east of Salem. I’ll join them in good time. I’ve been putting stuff they need in a special warehouse and there’s a mail drop.
“Right now I need to go on another scouting expedition. The last time, when I went to Astoria, my seconds started playing one-up. I was gone a week and things got totally out of hand. I need somebody who isn’t identified with any of the factions.”
Theo interrupted in horror. “Not me, you can’t do that to me. I hate managing!”
BD didn’t argue; just sighed and sorted through some papers. She built several piles and said, “OK. I can leave things for a while. Let me show you around town and track Myrtle down.”
“Track her down? She’s not clinging to you?”
“She probably would if I was howling all over her. But I hugged her and told her the limits of the territory. She’s to say her name is Maddy, and her parents are gone.”
Theo sighed. “How important is that deception?”
“Well; Norman is paranoid. I know nobody can hear us right now. But I’m sure there are spies; Conrad’s if not Norman’s.
“The idea, in the beginning, was that his ‘pressed men’ would work better knowing their loved ones were not really hostages, just living under my protection. Oh course, everybody knew it was a polite fiction, but people live on fictions. Norman is twisted, very very twisted. He established several prisons near his pied-à-terre; they’re dangerous and unpleasant; and he set up two slave camps. One’s in the high school just up the road from his palace and another on the PSU campus. He needs to torque people and he uses those camps for that. Well, he uses them for other reasons… He has this sick need to watch people squirm.”
“And he can’t make you squirm?”
“Norman would love to make me squirm. No matter how much he trusts his men and women; he has to have something on them. For now, my dislike of the sexual games he plays on the ‘bunny girls’ is what he uses. I exaggerate my dislike. He’s uncomfortable with me because he knows my dedication isn’t to him; it’s to survival.”
Bunny girls? Well, no need to ask, I can figure it out myself. I wish I’d been introduced to Norman. I’d like a read on the man. No, if Eagleston could see I’m BD’s brother just from our faces, then the further away I am from this Lord Protector, so much the better. Hmmm, maybe I’d better NOT shave off my beard and cut my hair. It curls a lot more than BD’s… it might hide our resemblance.
BD waved goodbye to the busy clerks. They strolled through the village. The ‘cute’ part was just two streets, three blocks long. It was surrounded by houses, mostly older, small, cute… This’ll give me hyperglycemia from sheer cuteness.
It was busy and vital. People were spinning, weaving; there was a carpentry, a dye works belched the smell of vinegar which couldn’t override the rank stink of tanning. Leather workers were cutting, embossing, sewing… Theo looked hard, and said, “Scabbards!”
“Yup, Norman keeps the smiths; the sword smiths near him. I have the jewelers, the copper smiths and the brass/bronze smiths. The armor guilds rate separate quarters near his palace. He’s still trying to decide if he’ll set up charter free towns or if the crafts will be distributed among the baronies. Or maybe each barony will have a specialty. In which case, do they belong to guilds and have a formal teaching program? Or will they be more informal?
“My people are doing all the leather work for the armorers. Anybody with any skill comes here.”
Theo marveled. “I hope people started to do this in the Bay Area. The organization is blowing me away… we just ran. Maybe if I’d known people there I’d have found an organization. Certainly it looked like Uncle Charlie had a nucleus organization.”
BD nodded. “Here, too. It was like that flash at the change turned off some people’s feeling of community.”
“So how did Arminger overcome that?”
“By hostages and greed.”
A large US post office stood at the base of a hill. From the flat fields behind came the stink of a recent burn. “We burned the houses down. He’ll be burning out a lot of Portland; the empty houses can harbor animals or humans that prey upon us. I don’t think people will ever live in cities like Portland again.”
Theo sighed. “Not unless this change reverses itself.”
“Would you trust the world to stay put if it all came back tomorrow?”
Theo shook his head and BD led him into the former post office. Here were all the cat and dog carcasses. The back area held huge vats, many of them makeshifts of cinderblock and tarps. Skilled workers skinned the animals at the sorting tables. Cats, dogs, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, a coyote, deer, and even a few sheep pelts were being processed. Workers industriously scrapped the fat into buckets. ‘Food’ carcasses were washed, processed, jointed and sent out in clean plastic carts. Carnivorous carcasses were also cleaned and processed and put onto carts; but the meat went another direction.
“So; why all the cat and dog dead?”
“Urk! Think about it, Scav One! How many dogs and cats are there in the US? And they all went feral. We have a real problem with dog packs. The cats aren’t a problem to us, yet, but they are disease vectors and hunt small birds and animals. We need those little ones if we are going to reclaim the land for crops. Besides, domestic cats aren’t well suited genetically for a wild niche. Norman encourages his crossbow men to hunt dogs, cats and ‘coons for marksmanship.
“Come winter we’ll need warm furs everywhere. Carnivorous animal fur isn’t ideal; people can be allergic. There were bans on cat and dog fur before the change; but the reasons were sentimental.” They walked out the back door. A large field held cows and sheep.
“I supply milk, butter, cheese, meat for the palace and for the labor gangs.”
Theo felt a light pop on in his head. “You’re feeding the labor gangs cat and dog! That’s how you have so many people!”
“Well, mostly cat and dog food; the meat flavors it. It’s amazing the supplies I rounded up. It’s perfectly decent food; they haven’t a clue. I balance the diet as best I can. Cat and dog foods have high grain contents. I really keep the protein content down. Marta, my housekeeper, is in charge cooking the food so it tastes good.”
Theo looked around, multiplying all he was seeing with the size of the rest of the city. “How, why, what did Arminger manage, how did he…”
“I have a feeling it’s because he’s a sociopath. He never had any ‘my people’ feelings, so he didn’t get distracted from his ambition.”
Theo stumbled. “A sociopath? A sociopath! and you are working with him?
“Sorry, you did say he nearly took you prisoner and would have used Myrtle as a hostage… it’s just that I can’t imagine you submitting to this, or looking for power like this; it just isn’t your trip.”
A small body hurled itself across the field to latch on to BD. Theo watched her hug Myrtle, quietly talking. They wandered across the field to the park beyond the burned houses.
“No, power never was my trip, but I had to do something, something to give me a reason to live. Snatching hope out from under Norman was that reason. But to go on, I have to know what’s going on out there; I have to make long term plans. I thought I’d be able to stick around and nibble at his foundations; but I can’t. I’ll go too far fairly soon. So I’m taking ‘stuff’ and hiding it. I found my pagan friends and sent them away from our sacred lands to places that will be safer. I need to go and find other groups, too. I don’t think I could get down to Medford, but I’d like to know what happened to the Jews who set out south. I need to make the best decision for Myrtle. I need, I need, I need!”
Theo nodded as they strolled over to the over-planted baseball diamond.
“You’ve got running water!” Theo exclaimed. “I never even noticed! And I used it, last night and today!”
“Yup, gravity fed, and a real blessing.”
His sister pointed to the community garden and orchard, being worked by labor gangs, supervised by foremen with whips. “There’s more past the tree belt. This is the biggest truck garden. We’ve set up ersatz ‘greenhouses,’ with tarps and wood. We’re getting fresh vegetables for the elite. The not-perfect goes into the work-gang soup pots.”
Theo stole a glance at his sister’s grim face. The gang wore clothing with numbers on them. It would be easy to see if somebody took off. I bet BD hates supervising them.
They wandered back to the busy little village and ate lunch at the community kitchen; previously a pub called “The Lucky Labrador.” Across the road was a community center that had once been a school. It was a school again, teaching spinning, weaving, carding… Theo gave up trying to remember all the steps covered in fabric arts. Myrtle was quite good at crocheting and settled herself in with the crochet and knitting groups, working and helping.
Theo returned to headquarters with his sister. The scope and orderliness of his sister’s scavenging operation boggled his mind. BD was hiding things in plain sight, but Theo quickly figured out which accounts were where. The extent of BD’s theft raised his hackles. But as he worked, he automatically tallied things. She’s not making much of a dent in Arminger’s operation.
People came and went all day. Theo got used to being hailed as “Scav One,” and slapped on the back. The bike wagon teams whose loads he recorded were free and had an impressive esprit de corps. These people are devoted to her or the PPA. They take pride in being an elite. The arrival of Baron Mollala’s chow wagon teams, chained to the bicycles, tired and hungry, showed Theo the underside of that pride… fear of those very shackles.
As the days went by the medieval system of personal loyalty extended to him; his power derived from BD’s. On the one hand he was acutely uncomfortable with how his suggestions were taken up; yet, it was a powerful force of community cohesion in the shattered city.
Evenings, everybody in residence, drifted over to the community center and sorted through the day’s “catch” of books. The “useful” cache of books helped Theo as he saw problems that could be solved with a mixture of modern materials and old-fashioned physics or chemistry. The “fun, ”children,” and “fire” sets were stored elsewhere. Theo researched as best he could from the hodgepodge of books. This is kind of like that SF story about the space travelers who meet a society living in huts and not knowing how their ancestors made the cites nearby. They’d forgotten their “old” tech, but had a newer and less flashy “tech” that allowed them to throw the invaders halfway across the galaxy when they got annoyed with them. Just so are we trying to remember old techniques we have forgotten out of lack of need.
“This ‘data base’ I’m accumulating is just too limited, BD. It’s patchy and… well, can’t we go into the main library? Surely they have a better selection, unless it burned?”
“Well… That’s Norm’s palace. When Norman took over the library for his palace, he had the books moved over to Powell’s bookstore. He’s got the few librarians who stayed to protect the books working there. PSU’s library is being emptied, and all the bookstores ransacked. If they have three copies of a ‘useful’ book, then I get the forth and fifth copies.”
“When Norman took over the library?” he asked, stunned.
“Yeah, he took over the library and made it his palace. That’s where he slaughtered those three guys the night he declared the Association. On the marble floor of the library foyer.”
Theo shook his head, much as he wanted more books, he didn’t want to go into the heart of the PPA. BD spoke with Renfrew and stacks of books arrived. Theo rebuilt catalogues in search of dying and tanning techniques and pulleys and levers.
Early in May BD went into Portland for a three day meeting. Theo had more than enough to keep him busy, coordinating all the groups as well as working with the technician squads he had put together. When he went to the bank late on the third day, he found BD pacing.
“Norman’s invading Lebanon. That’s a lot farther south than I expected him to go. I think he’s decided to ring the area he wants and strangle and nibble inwards. He’s sending me out to scout. He and Renfrew are confident Scav One can keep things under control.”
“You mean, they think they can replace you?”
“Well, I’m sure Norm wouldn’t mind causing trouble between us… he’s always trying to make sure he has the upper hand.”
Theo hesitated. Norm and Conrad were correct, BD’s people did accept him as her second. But… “What happens if either of them gets a good look at my face?”
“You look puzzled and say, ‘Yeah, I thought you knew I’m her brother,’ like it’s no big deal.” BD drummed her fingers on the table. “Scout’s going to Canon Beach and points south to Tillamook. He needs the distraction. He’s brooding. Norm’s not the kind of man he can give his loyalty to for very long.
“I can use this to find out what I need to know! I can’t make plans until I know what is going on; and since Conrad’s initial report on Eugene/Springfield and Salem… we’ve got zip! And you need info so you can have more options that just returning to Astoria.”
Theo started. He’d sunk himself so deeply into his sister’s life that he’d forgotten Captain Eagleston and his offer of a berth. He thought. “I could do it,” he said slowly. “Our people do trust me. I could more or less keep a lid on things… how long would you be gone?”
“That I don’t know. A lot depends on who I meet and where I go… I think I’ll head down to Jefferson and circle round Corvallis. I haven’t heard any more about Salem. I don’t know what that means. Even Vera Katz hadn’t heard from Gov. Kitzhaber before she died. Then I want to go to the Brownsville nemed and see if Juniper’s there. I’ll take the Sister’s Hwy. and circle round up to Mt. Hood and Hood River and come home on the Banfield. Say…”
Bd began taping lengths of yarn to her maps. They measured the distances she proposed. Theo tallied the numbers. “About 500 miles or so… two or three weeks if you take a bike. If you take troops and those wagons, it will take longer.”
“Got to take some wagons… I promised Avery I’d get him out. He’s going to set up a bike smithy. We’ve got to find warehouses away from protectorate control. It could mean life or death for a lot of people. So, say a month. Could you manage?”
Theo rubbed his beard and his hand halted. “Does the beard make me look less like you?” he asked.
BD grinned. “So that’s why you’ve been on the shaggy mountain man trip!”
“Well, yeah. How do I protect Myrtle if Norman and Conrad cotton on to who she is? She’s been through way too much already. I can’t imagine what Arminger would do to her, or how she’d take it.” Theo shuddered. “I look outside windows and behind doors before I sit down to talk with you… this isn’t healthy for the girl.”
“It isn’t and she resents she can’t use her very unusual name. She’s so proud of it. It’s a moot point. She’s coming with me. The highways and byways of Oregon might be dangerous, but leaving her here is more dangerous.”
Theo but his lip and agreed. It was a wrench to wave good-bye to his niece. BD and Myrtle left in the midst of a bike caravan. As his sister’s caravan disappear down I-5 southbound the long haul through western Oregon, Theo returned to work.
BD’s half evolved evacuation plans and the scavenging work kept him busy. He drafted a letter to Captain Eagleston, claiming that berth.
❀ ❁ ❀
BD’s return took him by surprise in late May. She stalked into the bank where he’d set up a desk. “We need to accelerate our plans. Norm plans on taking out Astoria and giving it to one of his barons in March or April next year. I was sorting through the logistics of his attack on Lebanon when I found the folder. Conrad and Norm didn’t notice I’d seen it.”
“He’ll break his treaty with Eagleston? That’s a bad idea if he gets a reputation as a treaty breaker.”
“Warlock… a traitor is a warlock. That’s actually funny. That bishop of his is mouthing on about witchcraft, witches and warlocks. Doesn’t or won’t use the word in it’s correct context. And Norm actually is a warlock!”
“You’re spacey; you’re so tired.”
“I am, and the situation is serious. I did make it to Corvallis, I saw Juniper Mackenzie, and Myrtle is staying with her and Eilir, her daughter. Blessed be! I was so worried I’d have to bring her back.
“The Kyklos is in the process of being established. Mt. Angel survives, Corvallis will live, Salem is dead and there is Yersinia Pestis all around it. Cholera, too, I wouldn’t be surprised at… it was working it’s way up from Mexico. Generalized dysentery, at the very least.
“I found out that Kitzhaber… that’s our late lamented governor, was coming home from Corvallis right about the time of the change. I’m afraid he must have bought it on the highway home. Nobody’s heard from him since the lights went out.”
BD paced and looked at her maps. “You know all the stashes. I’m going to put up a number of new ones tomorrow. Memorize them. I’d like you to check out Corvallis. They are fighting off the Yersinia Pestis and coalescing. At least get a feel for them. I think it will be a large settlement and one that honors learning. You may want to live there rather than with the Coast Guard… and where can they go. They’ll have to evacuate and soon, and quietly. Norm expects to peasent-ify all the people there and…” BD sighed and sat down and rested her head in her hands.
❀ ❁ ❀
Rain poured down on her and the horse. The horse fought the crazy idea of pushing on in the teeth of the winter storm. He fought the reins and offices BD gave him. She brought her crop down on his withers, smartly. The horse stopped dead and craned his neck around. BD patted him. “Come, Pinto, you idiot. I’m not getting off, and you are going into town. I can’t wait or bike.”
The horse looked ahead and shifted from one foot to the other. BD felt the uncertain ripple down his back. She leaned forward and yelled, “Go, now!” The horse, startled, started clopping along. BD kept her knees tight against the barrel chest of the horse and urged it on. Behind her what was left of Multnomah village was evacuating in the pouring rain. They’d been waiting a month for the Protector to be distracted. Sandra’s childbirth was just what they needed.
Theo was off to Astoria. Eagleston was just waiting for a chance to take his people on the dangerous exodus to Newport, partially by land and partially by sea; determined to deny all the better ships to Arminger after his treachery.
Norman’s urgent message to her said that Sandra was having a bad time. Rain lashed her in the darkness and she remembered driving this road to town, streetlights blazing, rain flooding her windshield faster than the wipers could get it off and feeling scared. I feel a lot more scared, now! she thought wryly, No more support services, nobody on the road in this kind of weather… if Pinto throws me, I’ll be there until Norman sends somebody to find me.
And the 7 miles into town were going to take an hour or more in this rain. “Premature labor,” Norman’s note said. The midwives and BD were sure she’d conceived in mid March. Sandra had insisted she couldn’t be pregnant until July, when she’d given in to her swelling belly, but not to their time line.
BD arrived at Good Sam soaking wet. The protector’s own guard were there. A page grabbed her horse’s reins and a footman helped her down. Mollala yanked her up the stairs and into the maternity wing. Eddie was there, wearing the indifferent look that meant he was furious. Mollala ranks him, but not for long, thought BD. And Phil is Sandra’s best friend. Eddie’s married and Sandra doesn’t like him or that girl.
She nodded briefly to Eddie. Norman was pacing wildly. BD stripped off her dripping cloak, the hat and the heavy scarf, ripped open the sweater, kicked off her boots and yanked down her pants, hurriedly.
“What are you doing?” screamed Norman, “Get in there!”
He’s actually foaming at the mouth! marveled BD. “Norman! I need to be in clean clothes!”
Even as she spoke a woman in scrubs gave her a clean set. BD yanked them on. Mollala had his hand on Norman’s shoulder and BD paused long enough to say. “Hang in there, Norman.”
The birthing room was bright with kerosene lamps. The doctor said, “contraction… count, count, count, damn!”
BD edged over to the pediatric nurse. “What’s up?” she asked quietly.
“Tried, it hasn’t worked.”
“Enough!” The doctor moved back. “We’re going to have to c-section. There’s meconium in the birth canal and the fetal heart rate is increasing and you’re bleeding. Somebody go tell Arminger.”
BD nodded and left as Sandra argued with the doctor about anesthesia. Norman was calmer, talking with Mollala and Eddie.
She didn’t soft soap it. “C-section. Baby’s breech.”
Norman had hold of her shoulders and she hadn’t even seen him move. He was shaking her and her head whipped back and forth. The screaming voice filled her ears, the working mouth spit in her face. She brought her hands. “Control yourself, oh Lord Protector!”
It worked. He let go and she stumbled and fell. “Sorry.”
“I want to say, ‘it’s ok,’ but it isn’t. Sandra is in some danger, but not that much. Just hang in there and talk about something like Gervase, or Sauvie’s Island, or the trip you want somebody to take down to LA and San Fran… whatever will happen will happen and we can’t stop it.” She looked around and suddenly asked, “Where’s your confessor?”
“Sent him away. I couldn’t stand to hear him talking about the ‘will of God.’”
BD bit down on a grin. Norman found the Catholic Church useful, but when push came to shove, he was in charge. “I’m going back. I wish Phillipa were here.”
“Me, too,” said Mollala, opening the door and following her. “BD, you took all the bunny girls; I’ve been meaning to ask you how many are bearing his bastards? It’ll be an issue.”
BD felt her jaw drop as pieces fell into place. “None. I never even thought of it. I just assumed Norman used condoms.”
Mollala shook his head. “I joined him often enough. We never used them.”
“How odd; none of them were pregnant. Maybe it was the food issue; they weren’t given the best food, you know.”
“Maybe. Do you know where they are? I want to ask them myself.”
“Yup” lied BD. “I’ll give you a list later.”
BD went to the OR, scrubbed, gowned, capped and masked. The operation was going sour.
“Why is she bleeding like this?” yelled the doctor, “cautery, cautery… we don’t have cauteries!” Glaring at the midwife he roared, “You didn’t let her take aspirin, did you?”
BD felt a cold chill wash over her as the midwife snapped back a comment on the doctor’s ability to teach his grandmother.
“I’ll bet she’s been taking Alka-Seltzer for cramps,” she said, dazedly.
There was a sudden silence. “You let her…” began the doctor, but BD didn’t let the pissing contest start.
“I’m guessing. She was taking it, before she knew she was pregnant. She called it ‘soda.’ She had a lot of gas at first. The problem isn’t who let her, it’s what to do.”
The midwife moaned, “Oh, no, she said she wasn’t taking anything.”
“She wouldn’t have thought it was anything important. OTC is supposed to be safe.” said BD.
The doctor’s eyes blazed as he counted to 10. He turned and said, “Then we have to do a hysterectomy. The womb is torn in several places and the placenta tried to detach early. I don’t have drugs, cauterizers… NOTHING!!”
Even as he spoke he was cutting quickly and surely and in scant minutes handing a small bundle to the pediatric nurse. His incisive voice rang as he marshaled his team to save Sandra’s life. BD spoke again. “It’s possible she’s been infected with VD; probably gonorrhea. Mollala just let it drop.”
The doctor didn’t pause as he ordered an IV antibiotic. BD went to see the wailing baby. She was crying hard, a bit small, and very dark red. Her bottom was smeared with meconium.
“She’s 7.5 pounds and her Apgar is an 8, so she isn’t doing badly.” said the nurse, her deft dark hands tying off the cord, and rubbing the tiny body briskly with warm cotton flannel to stimulate the lung clearing cries. BD nodded, but she was thinking of Norman’s dog bite in September. He’d taken wide spectrum antibiotics for almost a month. But she knew three women he’d had sex with in October and November. None were pregnant and two had been sick.
BD reached for the baby and held her as the nurse put antibiotic ointment in her eyes. BD looked to Sandra, but the Lady Protector was asleep. BD looked inquiringly at the anesthetist and he shook his head. “Too tired. I put her out.”
BD kissed Sandra on the forehead and waited. Forty five minutes later, the doctor stripped off his gloves and waved the nurses forward to take the drugged woman back to her room. BD placed the baby in the crook of Sandra’s arm and went with him to talk to Norman.
The doctor made his report to Mollala. Norman waited long enough to hear Sandra was alive before he took off to her room.
After the doctor left, Mollala turned to BD who was changing back into her partially dried dirty weather clothing. “Was it necessary?”
“I don’t know. My guess, and second guessing the doctor on the spot is futile, is that it was the only choice that could save her life.”
“Norman is not going to like this once he hears it all.”
BD shrugged into her clammy cloak. “I’m more worried about the lack of bastards. I’ll double check my records and send you a copy in a few days. If I am right, he might be sterile.”
“Clap, probably. We called it the flower of Vietnam in Mexico; an anti-biotic resistant clap. He was fucking every woman who’d sell herself.”
She left Mollala guarding Sandra’s door. Eddie had her horse brought round. The night had gotten dirtier and Eddie surprised her, “Sure you don’t want to hole up here, BD? It’s seven or eight miles… in this weather. Something could happen to you.”
BD hesitated, looking at the wildly blowing cherry trees. Then she shook her head. “Thanks, Eddie, but I’d better get back. Norman and Mollala came up with a question that needs answering.” She swung herself up into Pinto’s saddle. The horse, at least, had been dried, groomed and fed. Pointing towards his stable he was perfectly willing to clop along with the wind at his back.
The saddle bags looked empty, but when BD drew up by the PPA Palace 20 minutes later and dismounted, she palmed a small box. The guards let her past and into the private apartments of the Protector. Conrad Renfrew, back briefly from the Canon Beach saltworks construction, found her there.
“How is Sandra doing? Promising a boy next time?”
BD sighed and turned around completely. “No, she’s 10 fathoms under. They had to c-section her and she started to bleed uncontrollably. She’s had a hysterectomy. She’s sleeping off the drugs and the trauma and Norman is with her. The baby is a girl, to be called Mathilda.”
Renfrew sat down suddenly. “Sandra’s had a hysterectomy? But, that means…”
He shook his head. “So what are you doing here?’
“Putting some things away for Sandra.”
Renfrew shook his head and walked out. BD guessed he was on the same track as Mollala. She frowned, wondering how to hide her note and gift.
❀ ❁ ❀
A week later, Sandra returned to her palace. When she woke up the next morning and shifted, painfully, under the covers she saw a box on the night stand. The nurse came in with her daughter and helped prop her up and begin feeding. Sandra caressed the baby’s forehead and kissed her cheek and snuggled her close. Then she opened the box and pulled out a letter.
I’m leaving. Right now. It will be days before you get this. I’ve left you sleeping, but alive and well and your daughter also. This concludes what I thought of as my obligations to you and Norman. You are aware, as is everybody, how unsuited I am for this medieval world of yours. I’m also not very suited to being a catholic. My ‘people’ are settled far away and have a spot waiting for me. I doubt you’ll see me again. But we did good in saving as much as we could out of the crash.
I have one last thing on my mind. During the horrid hours of your labor and operation I learned that Norman has not engendered any children other than your lovely Mathilda. I think he might have picked up a dose of clap, gonorrhea, if you want to be precise, and is now sterile. This means that you and Mathilda are safe from his pulling a Henry VIII on you to provide himself with an heir. You will have to take what measures you can think about to insure he understands this early on and is not conned by a woman pregnant with another man’s child.
I leave you a token of my regard. I can’t leave you a method of getting in touch with me, since I don’t know how it could be done.
Blessings on you and your daughter. BD
Puzzled, Sandra opened the box and took out the silver coin. In complicated celtic knot work was a five pointed star. On the obverse was a woman’s head, crowned with stars. She looked at it for a long time before putting it away. Norm didn’t need to know BD was a witch.
❀ ❁ ❀
❀ ❁ ❀
Sandra did not see BD again. BD and her people settled the Kyklos. They cultivated grain, flax, and sheep, llamas, angora rabbits and goats as their primary crops. BD brought pure bred cats of several types to sell as luxury items.
The Kyklos become noted for soft, fine woolen cloths. They treated with Mt. Angel and provided them with foot soldiers, lancers who wore armor japanese style, cut from steel-banded tires. BD set up as a peddler; a ‘tinerant.’ She and others did rounds through the Protectorate, Astoria, Tillamook, Bearkiller, Corvallis and Mackenzie territories. Her intelligence work served Juniper and Signe well.
Theo lived in Newport, working with Eagleston and the committee in Corvallis, creating a “hydraulic Babbage machine.” Tide charts, almanacs, calendars… the needs of automation were immense, and trustworthy tables badly needed. Shipwrights began working in Newport by Change Year 3. But the deserted town of Astoria held no easy solutions for the Lord Protector’s sea faring ambitions.
Myrtle, freed from deception grew up caring for the animals of the Kyklos and qualified as a vet.