“Okay, my turn,” I chuckled as I picked up the fat cigar-sized joint of the Sisterhood’s weed. Possession of the Canibus talking stick authorized the owner to speak without interruption.
I took a heavy hit and passed the blunt to Sheila and took my place in our naked Truth or Dare fireside chat.
“Please be honest. What do you believe?” The commander’s theology drifted all over the map from Pagan to Puritan, seasoned with native lore and eastern thought. Pinning her down was like trying to nail water to the sky.
“Don’t fuck over your neighbor,” she laughed as she waved my smoke-ring to one side.
“That is the long and short of the Liberty Mountain code: ‘Fear is the father of all lies. Therefore, strive to be truthful and kind to all you meet. Do not be cruel. Treat friends and strangers with Respect, Dignity, and Compassion, especially if you think they are undeserving” Sheila recited the oath I had taken a lifetime ago.
“And it goes like this,” she said as she slipped another log on the fire; Terror disrupts our thoughts and diminishes our vision. Falsehoods clutter our minds with untruths we are forced to remember lest we are discovered to be deceitful. Do not be unnecessarily deceptive. Dignity is the acknowledgment of the other’s humanity, Respect is your acceptance of their right to exist. Compassion is a reminder to be kind, rather than callous, when you engage with folks, be they friend or foe.”
“Beyond that, I will say no more. If you live by this standard, I welcome you in peace and invite you to share with me the fellowship of our minds so we may better know one another’s spirit.” She kissed my cheek and blew smoke in my face.
Like fence posts whizzing past on the highway, the days after the event blurred together like the shadowy spots on moldy bread. SkyFire was an extinction level event on multiple fronts.
For the dinosaurs of national governments, it was the end of days. All politics is local and no one gave a rat’s ass about partisan policies when enemies were at the gate.
For empires of affluence, it was game over in spades. The economy lay in shambles. Money was worthless. My grandmother used to tell me, “a poor man is only a rich man with no money.”
Poverty was the rule unless you stood on your own land with a wad of cash in your kit, your wallet pocket. ATM and credit cards were useless pieces of colorful plastic connected to someplace on the dark side of the moon.
For the gods of electronic media and the tyrants of internet kingdoms, there would be no tomorrow.
Castrated by nature’s guillotine, the pricks in power were shafted. Electrical dysfunction rendered their members impotent, without the power to seduce us for profit.
The airwaves, once awash with data, red and blue hues of real and fake news, bizarre conspiracy theories, and weird views, no longer belonged to the mighty. Anyone with electricity and a transmitter could be a player.
For the rest of us addicted to reality through online social communities, television, and cell phones, it was cold turkey. There would never be another fix.
“Mable, say again, over,” Sheila’s eyes widened in alarm as she adjusted the volume, “Shhh!” she hissed with her index finger to her lips in the universal call for silence
“I say again, Mee-Zells. Little red spots. We have twenty-seven confirmed cases, three fatalities, six in critical condition.” I winced as a chill passed over my memory of childhood afflictions. In the days before vaccines, I inherited my immunity the old fashioned way. As a charter member of the Malady of the Month Club, I endured mumps, measles, chickenpox, ringworm, pinworms, and a host of parasites and infections. My brother survived Polio.
“Our prayers are with you, Mable. Is the outbreak under control? Over.”
“Negative Liberty. It is not.”
“Meeker, what is your situation? Over.
“Liberty, Mayor declared a public health emergency. We have ninety-seven in quarantine at the Hotel. Active cases being treated in middle school. Flu is hitting the infected hard. We have no antibiotics. Battery low. Shutting down. Out,”
“Mable, repeat, our prayers are with you. Check back at the top of each hour when you can. Take care. Out,” the Commander blew a kiss as she scribbled something on her notepad.
“Martha, please apprise Wendy and the medical team of the situation in town. Give her this. We’ll be meeting about Meeker in,” Sheila paused and frowned at the clock, “be here in forty-five minutes,” she said as she ripped the sheet from her pad and passed it to the Queen of the Kitchen.
“Belinda and Sky, saddle-up for a recon mission. Take the bikes and the drone. Pack as many spare batteries as you can. We need high-def videos of the town. Focus on security and conditions on the ground. Still, capture points of interest. Brenda, can you give ’em a hand with their kits?”
“How ya doing, Wolfie?” Belinda teased and dismounted from her Onex bike and stretched her arms wide and worked the kinks from the trail out of her backside. She gave me an almost sympathetic grin before she lifted the binoculars to her eyes and scanned the route forward.
“Never better,” I lied as I wiped my black bandanna over my face. Two hours of almost nonstop riding. Old soldiers never die, we just wrinkle away.
“We should see the town from the top of that rise,” I said as I straddle my motorbike and pointed toward the spot where the path passed over the crest of a sundrenched ridge about half-mile distant. “I’ll set-up and put this guy through his paces. I haven’t flown since SkyFire, I would feel better with a practice run.”
We weren’t exactly racing but I was trying not to come in second as we dashed for our destination. Frosty finished first. Her eyes widened as she stared at the town below, and her mouth formed a perfect circle as she smeared the syllables of two words into a single long howl of horror, “HoleyShit!”
Meeker was, in a word, a mess. Ashes and ruins slashed across the pristine patterns of streets and buildings in a dance of random destruction. The same pulse of power which ignited the motors in our refrigeration units had run riot with the village’s electrical appliances as miles of wound copper wire converted the influx of energy into core melting heat.
I shuddered in sympathy as I focused my field glasses on the village in the valley. I could only imagine myself in their place on that night: trapped between a blazing sky and a burning town with nowhere to run and no place to hide.
I dismounted and held Belinda as we shivered together in the charcoal flavored sunshine. Since our sticky encounter with Fitzwater’s band of bonded brothers, I studied every aerial image of the town. Basic paranoia more than geography guided my interest.
Tucked into a pocket of high ground between two mountain ridges, just north of the White River, the compact and well-planned village of Meeker lay before us like a charred chessboard.
“We’ve got ideal conditions for a flyover, the sun is almost directly overhead,” I said as I glanced upward and squinted into the cloudless blue sky.
I removed the Quadcopter from its custom carry case and gave the mechanical marvel a quick readiness check. All systems were good to go except for one small problem: I couldn’t see shit.
Our nearly treeless vantage point provided little refuge from the sun. The tiny black plastic sunshade did nothing to prevent the glare of sunlight from bleaching detail form the drone’s handheld control panel.
Time for Plan B. I removed the set of virtual goggles from my backpack and plugged the connecting cable into the control panel’s USB port and adjusted the straps. When the fit was comfortable and snug, I tapped the control switch. My point of view instantly changed as I become the drone and was no longer me.
The onboard Hasselblad camera produced lifelike high-quality 4K videos, breathtaking in their detail and crisp vivid colors. The effect was a bit disconcerting. Whereas a moment ago a moment before I had been staring at the drone I was now me looking back at me without a pixel in sight. I shook my head and the image in the mirror nodded in reply.
“Open the pod bay doors, Hal,” Swallowing hard, I chuckled as I sank to my knees and lay prone as I hugged the rocky soil and looked around. A bit of buzz leftover from a sunrise joint gave the display’s reality a virtual kick. I wasn’t scared of heights as long as there was a railing between me and the view.
Vertigo and mountain crests have a mutual animosity and there’s no sense in testing gravity.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Belinda chuckled and minced the voice of the crazy computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey as she fired-up the little drone’s four engines and launched my point of view into the air. The shrill whine of quad’s electric motors quickly faded to a whispering silence as the tiny craft soared into the blazing blue sky, its battleship-gray pastel undercarriage blending into invisibility with the heavens.
“Take it easy, I get airsick.” I gulped as Belinda pivoted to the east and followed the contours of the steep granite ridge leading to the village in the valley.
Flying along the Anderson Gulch trail at an altitude of just under five-hundred feet, our drone crossed over the edge of town. The scenery below looked like a page out of Shel Silverstein’s book, Where the Sidewalk Ends. The town’s boundary line slashed across the land like the edge of a surreal knife. On one side, city blocks, lofty shade trees, homes, stores, and streets. On the other, the barren mountains.
From my aerial observation platform, for the first time, I could see the full scope of SkyFire’s devastation. Three out of five structures within the community had been reduced to ash. Most of the business blocks between Market and Main Street were charred wastelands and impromptu parking lots filled with the rusting shells of burned out vehicles.
Despite the destruction, the place was alive with activity. Almost everywhere I looked, virtually every parcel of open land was being worked and had either been transformed or was in the process of changing. Swarms of citizens with rototillers and hoes were plowing lawns into backyard Victory gardens and multi-family farms. Survival, not scenery, was the new order of the day.
Hanging in the air like a lazy hawk, Frosty followed the flight plan and put the drone into a leisurely upward spiral and climbed to a point about two thousand feet above the town and loitered motionless with fifteen minutes of battery remaining.
Before I got lost in the cornflakes, I wanted to see the big picture. Something was going on down there and what it was, I wasn’t exactly sure, but it was unlikely folks woke up one day and, in mass, decided to start gardening. Somebody or a group of somebodies was in charge. The response to the disaster was too organized and too purposeful to be the result of random events.
It appeared as if most of the population of Meeker were out and about. Young kids with little red wagons hauled jugs of water for thirsty garden crews. Everywhere, laundry hung from clotheslines, fluttering in the breeze like Tibetan Prayer Flags.
“Okay, your turn,” I said as I lifted the goggles from my eyes and passed the headset to my partner.
“Take a gander, it’s not exactly the zombie apocalypse – they got their shit together,” I hunched down and shielded my lighter with my hands and puffed my cigarette to life.
“Damn! They took a heavy hit,” Belinda let out a long whistle as she moved her head from side to side.
“Wow! It looks like old home days down there. Horses everywhere, I see at least a dozen horse-drawn wagons and too many mounted riders to count.”
“Do you see any working automobiles?” I asked as I lifted my field glasses and focused on the town.
“Not many. So far, I’ve spotted three motorized moving – all antiques. One of ’em, old fashioned fire truck, a pumper I think,” Frosty said as the control box issued a sharp “Ping!” It was the signal for low battery and the start of the drone’s auto-return sequence as the algorithm governing the drone’s survival “instincts” kicked into gear.
Timing is everything. Voyeur One made it back with three minutes to spare. We were wrapping up the third and final flyover and had ordered the drone to initiate its back-to-base program. As Belinda removed the goggles I heard the crunch of gravel behind me. I started to turn when a voice commanded, “Freeze!”
“Hands in the air mister. You too lady,” the youthful male voice seemed to quiver a bit as if pleading for cooperation.
“No sudden moves, we got you covered,” a second more fearful voice commanded. A trickle of sweat dripped into my eye as adrenaline surged through my body.
“Easy there, we mean you no harm,” Belinda’s gentle and soothing words were delivered with equal measures of comfort and compliance. I gave my partner the flash of a sideways glance, I didn’t think Frosty could sound so motherly.
“Please, both of you, turn around, real slow,” the young man ordered with an extra emphasis on the last word.
“I’m standing now,” I said with all of the grace I could muster as I spread my fingers wide to show I had no weapon and lifted one hand aloft as far as I could reach, I used the other for leverage as I wobbled into a standing position with my arms spread wide as I tried to touch the sky. We wolves wobble but we don’t fall down.
Belinda’s agile body had no problem assuming a standing position with effortless ease. Ahhh! To be young again with working knees.
“I’m turning to face you now, son.” I kept my voice as calm and as firm as I could as I assumed what I hoped was a wise and grandfatherly expression. People see what they want to see. Obi-Wan Kenobi meets Indiana Jones, I hoped the eagle feather helped.
“Oh my God! Jayson, he’s an old man,” the girl’s eyes widened in surprise as she took a step back and lowered the muzzle of her bolt action rifle to a slightly less threatening position of readiness.
“Give me your handcuffs, Amanda,” Jason instructed his companion as he studied my face.
“Grandfather, is that your daughter?” he nodded in Frosty’s direction.
“Oh? That’s Belinda, she’s my…”
“Dad! Don’t say too much. We don’t know if these kids can be trusted,” my partner warned as she cut me off mid-answer.
“Daughter, stop mothering me,” I gave Belinda a quick and puzzled glance as I tried to guess the next move in her gambit.
“I’m sorry father, I’m only thinking of you,” she kept her hands high as she bowed her head, as if in shame.
Her pouting lips barely moved as she whispered, “Wait for it.”
“Are we good?” I asked with a friendly smile. I looked into the eyes of the boy and girl for their answer and started to lower my arms.
“No! No! Keep ’em up, why are you spying on us?” Jayson adjusted the grip on his weapon.
“Son, we aren’t spying. We’re from a small prepper community living off-grid for fifteen years. This is our first time out since the event happened, we’re trying to be neighborly,” I explained.
“Please kids, put down your weapons and kindly let us go, we’ll be on our way,” Belinda pleaded.
“I’m sorry, I have orders and I can’t do that,” the young man said.
“What do you want of me? We are not your enemy,” Belinda cooed.
“True, maybe, but I’m not a kid. I’m a deputy sheriff,” he said as he puffed his chest out and assumed a serious manly voice, “I have ordered. I am supposed to…” the teen’s eyebrows creased in concentration as if trying to recall detailed previous instructions, “apprehend and detain for questioning all trespassers or intruders I may encounter while on patrol.”
The boy’s lady friend nodded as slung her hunting rifle over her shoulder and removed a set of cuffs from her belt.
“I need to see your hands,” she said as she opened the steel manacles.
I gave Frosty a nervous sideways glance.
“Wait for it,” her lips moved soundlessly.
Jayson lowered his weapons and arched his back while he craned his neck and blinked into the sky, searching for the source of the new and strange noise from above. Our drone had returned. This was the now Belinda had been waiting for.
As I threw myself headlong into the body of the distracted girl, I saw from the corner of my eye the blur of Belinda leaping through the air like a jungle cat as she tackled the startled boy.
Inertia, gravity, and surprise were on my side. The poor girl’s legs buckled under the weight of my body. She was under me as we hit the ground with a bone-jarring thud that left her gasping for air. I had knocked the wind out of her. She was down for the count.
Frosty knelt over Jayson, the fingers of her left hand around his windpipe as she held her raised right hand in check, reared back and ready to deliver a smashing flat-of-the-palm blow to his unprotected face.
“Yield!” She screamed and then added softly, “I will not hurt you. Peace?”
Copyright © Copyright 2019 by Nathan Wolf
All rights reserved.
This is an adult work of fiction intended for mature readers.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is too weird for words and 100% purely coincidental.
NOTE: “Secrets of Liberty Mountain” is a work in progress and today stands at 97,650 words. As a new author, I value your feedback. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on my story. Either leave a comment below or PM me and let me know what you think. Thank you.
<a href=”https://www.lushstories.com/stories/fantasy-scifi/-secrets-of-liberty-mountain-no-mans-5.aspx”> Secrets of Liberty Mountain: No Man’s Land (Chapter 44) </a>