New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Griffith frowned but the sheets and charts scattered about the table didn't seem to care. In fact, they studiously ignored Tom altogether. He continued to stand by the table for several moments then looked out the window at the site activity. In the background he could see several people scurrying about, clearly determined to get ready in time. In the foreground he saw Lew Snapp checking and double checking the farming tools and supplies that each enclave carried.
Tom smiled broadly as he remembered the look on Tom Warren's face when the Snapps had joined up. He and Sienstra had been so proud and boastful of how they had snowed the hick farmer. Then, only two months later with the news of the comet becoming more persistent, Snapp had shown amazing insight.
And, when he had arrived, it was with seeds, tools, fish hooks, one hell of a lot of horse sense, and a family of five. But, despite the latter, there had been little doubt of his joining the group. Lew Snapp was so honest, practical, and forthright that it would have been a contradiction in survival to turn him away.
But the moment of levity faded, and Tom turned back to his work. After a few more futile moments, his lack of work was interrupted by a slight pounding on the door. Disgruntled, he called out, "Come in", without bothering to even look at the door. He continued to stare at the table as Mike Brownson entered.
When Mike had watched Tom for a brief moment, he smiled, "What's happening?"
Tom glanced at Mike then stepped back and collapsed into his desk chair. With his arms before him and each finger touching its mate, he frowned. Then, glancing up, he acknowledged, "You just said it, 'what's happening?' And I'll be damned if I know."
Mike watched him for a moment then leaned again the table. Gancing at the papers, he asked, "People problems?"
Tom let out an abrupt sarcastic laugh. "All problems are basically people problems." Then, reflecting, "At least those in the real world."
"Some grumblings. Some sarcasm, some outright cynicism."
"I thought the public announcement last week by the government might have squelched most of that. Surely no one here is still skeptical.”
“Oh no, there is no skepticism. But there is no real devotion to the organization either. They are still individuals with separate and complex motivations."
"What about the assignment of enclave captains? Surely such a dispersal of power would calm most of them.”
“For some, yes. But the choices can always be challenged.”
“Who would object to Scott, Parsons, Smith and Trippe? Forget, for the moment, you and I.”
“Well, for one, Bryan Riddle.”
“What's his problem?”
“I don't know. When he and his wife first showed up, they were just hunters who had gotten a trifle lost. But when that government announcement about the possible ill effects from Ketuohok appeared, they were back like a shot.”
“Well, that just shows a little smarts. We're not going to start eliminating people for that, are we?”
“Oh, hell no! But now I'm just not sure about them.”
“Well, I'll say this for him: Riddle has certainly leaped into the work with a vengeance. He's putting in overtime, like he was trying to catch up.”
“That's what bothers me. Who is he trying to catch up with?”
Mike thought a moment, then chuckled, “Maybe he's just trying to make up for his charming wife.” Mike's ‘charming' sounded vaguely sarcastic.
“I doubt that. I get the more distinct impression that he's trying to join the leadership. His wife, Diana, is just his barker.”
“Well, you don't have to put up with that crap.” Mike thought for a moment, his temperature beginning to find fuel to burn. ‘Look, he's lucky to be in the group. After just walking in here cold, along with that lady to boot, well... He's on pretty shaky ground if he thinks he can start making waves about who's running the show.”
Tom frowned. “I suspect that Bryan Riddle is a ground shaker from way back. And just a little too potent. I doubt seriously that he'll ever accept the assigned leadership as some sort of act of God."
“Yeah, but what can he do?”
“Well, for one, he can question the assignment of enclave captains. For instance, Fred Smth.”
“But Fred is one of the original discoverers.”
“But Fred has never even been to the site yet. He's been busy, sure, and useful as hell. But he doesn't know the enclaves that well, or the people. He needs to be here to be an enclave captain and Riddle is not above pointing out that fact.”
“Well, I can't buy that. Smith is doing everyone else's dirty work in trying to get the world to fess up to the collision, and to forge some links to other groups who are already convinced. Contact with others after the fact might turn out to be incredibly important. The fact that he has spent months at it, instead of the weeks that we initially assumed, should make no difference. Let's face it, Smith is risking his life so that the rest of us won't have any guilt feelings and at the same time have some expectations of joining with other well-prepared groups later on.”
“That's all very well. And no one is questioning Smith's right to a place here. But should he be an enclave captain? He was supposed to have returned over a week ago. But he keeps getting delayed.”
"If he waits too long, he may find that he just can't make it. The country is really starting to get a bit nervous."
“And we've got five weeks before Ketuohok arrives. Think what it'll be like during the last few weeks.”
Tom Warren could see the barbed wire fence just ahead and the shallow ditch beyond. He glanced over at Mike Sienstra, about twenty yards to his right. Sienstra was waving him on.
For a moment he resented the gestured order. Why, after all, had Bryan suggested that Sienstra lead this 'raid'? Hell, Sienstra was just a big heavy construction type who liked to throw his weight around. Tom was sure his qualifications as a carpenter should have entitled him to prior consideration.
Then, reflecting, he realized that at least he had not been left with the truck like Jim Wells. That would truly be demeaning. After all, just like Bryan had said, this would be a damned important raid and would certainly be acknowledged as such when the rest found out what they had accomplished. The trick now was to accomplish it.
Sienstra was now whispering loud curses at Warren. Deciding he could wait no longer, Tom left his cover and made for the fence at a careful, humped over run. When he reached it, he threw himself to the ground in order to roll under the lower strand of barbed wire.
The ripping sound of the black leather jacket seemed ominously loud. Surely the whole world had been alerted by now.
But he could not falter. He was up quickly, almost on his hands and knees, making for the ditch perhaps twenty feet away. When he made it, he literally dove into the concealing blackness of the culvert.
The shock of landing belly first in cold icy water is always particularly severe. The whole body is blasted with cold and shrivels in an attempt to avoid the horror. The mind is torn between consideration of all the nerve signals announcing 'cold' from every extremity and the realization of how totally stupid this must look. For Warren, the dual factors of acute embarrassment, chattering teeth and shaking limbs were still vying for his undivided attention when Sienstra landed heavily on the edge of the ditch.
"What the fuck are you doing?” Sienstra whispered with panic in his voice, “You're making enough noise to wake everybody in town!”
"Oh, shit, I'm cold!"
"You dumb son-of-a-bitch, didn't you see the water?"
"No, Goddamn it. I wouldn't have jumped in it if I had.” Then, as an afterthought, "And you can go to hell!"
Mike looked at the shadowy, shaking figure in the ditch. Why the hell hadn't Bryan come along instead of saddling him with Warren - Tom had never even been in the Army. Sienstra raged in his mind for a moment, rethinking Riddle's argument that he would cover for all three of them. It seemed plausible at the time. But Mike had not figured on Tom Warren's bungling ways.
Sienstra began to case the armory again. No sign that anyone had heard a thing. These National Guard armories were not supposed to have people in them at night, anyway. Maybe they could still pull it off. One thing for sure, Sienstra thought, Riddle gets no credit for this. We did it ourselves!
Urging on a wet, chattering, sloshing Warren, Mike made it to the armory. He plastered himself against the wall only to then notice Warren standing about two feet from the building. He was lifting his hands slightly and looking down at his muddy, dripping clothes. Mike relaxed off the wall, muttering in disgust. Nothing seemed to be working at all well.
It went like that for the rest of the evening. First, he cut his hand on the window they broke and the only thing to wrap it with was a bright white handkerchief. Then the small crowbar broke on the weapons cage lock and they had to ramshackle through the armory to find a pipe to use for leverage. Finally, they had the cage opened only to discover that Warren had lost the lock-cutter.
They had managed to break into one weapons rack with about twelve semi-automatic rifles and into two small ammunition chests when they heard the truck outside. When Mike saw that it was Jim Wells, he assumed that Jim was trying to warn them. He quickly loaded Warren with rifles and had the presence of mind to check the ammunition to ensure a match with the rifles. Then he was up and gone.
They managed to load the twelve rifles and about eight hundred rounds and then leaped into the cab. Wells gunned the engine and they were off.
Wells was sweating. "What the hell took you guys so long?"
But Mike was more concerned with discovery. "Who'd you see?”
Jim was taken aback. With quick glances toward Mike he asked, “Was there somebody coming? I didn't see anybody!"
“What?" Sienstra was furious. "If you didn't see anybody coming, why the hell did you drive up? We didn't signal you!”
“Well, damn, Mike! You guys had taken so long, I just figured that something had happened.”
Mike cursed to himself, questioning why he should deserve these guys. Tom Warren merely shook and shuddered.
Then Jim made a discovery. "Hey Tom, you're soaking wet!”
The ‘Raiders Return' did not seem to go off any better than the raid itself. Tom Griffith was nothing short of irate.
“What in the name of God were you dunderheads doing robbing an armory? You want the whole fucking Army breathing down our necks? Of all the stupid, asinine…”
Sienstra was bitter. "”We had to have some weapons! We've got to be able to defend ourselves!”
Tom studied Sienstra for a moment. He could ignore Warren, who was still shivering, and Wells, who merely looked stupidly guilty, but he could not ignore Sienstra nor the crowd that had gathered.
“Because, you imbecile, it was not necessary! We already have ample weapons. We've even befriended the local commanding officer, who has the keys to all the weapons, including their tanks! We've located all these for future reference, and we have enough on site already. There is just no point in raising hell. We don't need more guns or ammunition.”
“But that newspaper article we saw! And the TV reports! People are starting to really get edgy. We just figured we needed...” His voice trailed off, the critical point was made that he was not alone. There seemed little else to say.
“Mike, things are not that bad. There are no riots yet, no mobs, and, most importantly, no one knows we're here. In addition to that, we already have enough weapons to arm everyone in the camp, including my children." Tom looked around for a moment to try and gauge how others were reacting.
Bryan Riddle, who had been carefully silent to that point, smiled inwardly as he decided it was time to raise the more critical issue of leadership. After all, Riddle had encouraged the three raiders. Now he must support them, however subtly. “Tom, don't you think you're being a little heavy-handed here?"
“What?” Tom's answer was a challenge to speak.
But Bryan would not be intimidated. “Their actions may have been somewhat questionable, but I think the intent was good. Mike and the others saw that we might need weapons for self protection and then they took the initiative to go out and get them."
“You're kidding!" Tom was incredulous.
"No. These men risked their lives for the rest of us. I don't see that they have done so much damage.”
"No damage? The fact that the National Guard is going to be searching high and low for their weapons, that we may have people coming out our ears while we try to maintain a low profile -- you don't think that that doesn't constitute damage?”
"Maybe in your view it does,” Bryan challenged, “But not necessarily in everyone else's. After all, the armory's over a hundred miles from here. I don't really think…”
"I don't care what you think! They did a very dumb thing, without consulting anybody. And in the process, they've endangered everyone!” Tom was sufficiently angry that he was oblivious to Bryan's mental maneuvering.
"Look, Tom,” Bryan smiled to himself, "Just because they didn't check with you before they did it, you needn't get mad.
Suddenly, Tom recognized the blatant ploy. It had to be too ridiculous to justify a reply. Turning away, he lowered his head, as if thinking. Then looking back up, he announced to the group, “From now on, no one, and I mean no one, is to leave this site without my express permission! There are to be no contacts with the' rest of the world unless I say So!"
"What the hell kind of dictatorial power gives you the right to make that order?” Bryan asked angrily.
Tom stared down at him. Very carefully he said, "No one leaves the site without my authorization. Period."
Jeffrey Wright walked out of the hardware store extremely puzzled. He wouldn't have believed it, but he had stumbled onto Bill Robert's trail.
Jeffrey was not -- in any sense of the word -- a private detective. But when the PIC had made finding Bill Roberts, Wright's primary job, Jeffrey had leaped at the task. Not really knowing what else to do, he had gone through all of Roberts' telephone calls of the last several weeks. Everything had checked out normal except for the message from Alan Richards concerning a George Voulers. When Wright had checked with Richards, who was already on a new project, he quickly discovered that Voulers was Kirk Masters' supervising professor. Shortly thereafter Wright had learned of Masters' death.
Suddenly the task of finding Roberts was becoming an important one. All sorts of crazy rumors were flying about in the capital, and Roberts' actions were clearly just as crazy. In some way Roberts was involved in something highly questionable and Wright had Grogane's clear instructions to clear up all the questions. And now Wright could accomplish just that. The message for Roberts had now led him to this hick town in Nebraska -- small enough so as to seem incapable of a conspiracy. But the old codger in the hardware store had identified Bill Roberts' picture as the man who bought considerable hunting equipment only a few weeks ago. Therefore Bill Roberts was somewhere near by.
But Jeffrey was still puzzled. There were several odd things going on. First, he had never known Roberts to go hunting. Second, he had bought equipment for two people. And, thirdly, if this was a cover, why had he not charged it on his credit card so as to get easy reimbursement from the government. For some reason, his boss had paid cash, with little interest in even a receipt.
When he had left Washington, Jeffrey had not really expected any success in his search. But now he felt very close. The only immediate question now seemed to be whether he should report his progress so far. But, having no real concrete evidence of Roberts' present location, this seemed careless. If nothing came of this lead, he might look foolish. No, he'd have to have a better report than that.
First he would cover the surrounding countryside. If Bill Roberts was in the area, Wright would find him.
Fred Smith stood looking out the window, watching the men load baggage onto the plane. He watched them intently, trying to force his will on them to hurry. Fred did not want to miss this plane. In the pit of his stomach there was the sudden sinking feeling that he had waited too long. Perhaps he had. But it had seemed so necessary. Preparations had to be made. There had to be plans for after the comet, and more importantly, the public had to be accurately informed of the true state of affairs. They couldn't simply be herded into fallout shelters like cattle to the slaughterhouse. This basic assumption seemed so obvious.
Only the obvious had never been clear to others. Invariably they had not believed him. And, when he did convince someone, there was little thought of the public well being. Once convinced of the dire consequences of Ketuohok's encounter with Earth, most of the people simply bailed. A lot of bureaucrats were now hurriedly making preparations of their own.
The lesson had been a bitter one for Fred. True, several of the people who were convinced had tried their best to initiate some major projects, but invariably they ran up against all the roadblocks that Fred had previously encountered. The basic problem was that the impending doom was just too big to do anything about. The government had been helpless and, in general, had added little but confusion and skepticism.
Fred had been so sure that something on a large scale could be done if he and others persisted. But perseverance had not been enough. Fred had been in Washington for almost seven months and had seen the credibility and authority of the governmental leadership falter, decay and begin to crumble. The constant assurances of only minor disturbances from the onrushing comet just did not square with reports of frantic activity of certain military units and a small vocal clique of scientists yelling doomsday. The inter net had been prolific with dire consequences, but then almost abruptly, the well spring of these reports begin drying up. Fred wondered briefly if all the people believing in the truth had given up talking to others, and were now concentrating on making their own preparations.
He eyes glanced about the modern terminal, studying prospective passengers. Most seemed nervous or at least apprehensive in a generalized way. There didn't seem to be any one who was not nervous. Then he noticed an obvious foreigner, probably from one of the African nations.
Fred could not help wondering if the government could have been a little more candid, could be preparing the people better if it were not for the fear and suspicions of the rest of the world. There was a continuing array of accusations and charges from every unfriendly nation (and quite a few friendly ones) that what preparations were being made were but one step from war. The slowly stepped-up public re-education on fallout shelters and survival techniques were constantly being pointed out as examples of American duplicity.
Fred could feel himself beginning to boil inside as he thought of some of the members of Congress lambasting the administration with the same charges. He was pretty sure that the Congress had been briefed on the true situation, but they may have had to skip some of the people who would in no way accept the facts of life and death. There seemed to be a lot of such Congressmen in recent years.
What was particularly galling, Fred thought, was that Ketuohok had now rounded the sun and they should be able to make substantiating measurements. It would still be tough, but how could they fail to try to substantiate their claims? And the reality of the situation was such that someone must tell the people. They had to have enough of their preparations completed by now, how could they justify the delay?
Fred felt uneasy, having talked only last evening with an official who was urging for an accurate, official announcement within a few days. Hopefully the announcement could come from the President himself. Fred hoped he would be successful, the world had to know its fate.
Suddenly Fred's thoughts were interrupted by the announcement of his flight. 'Thank God,' he thought, 'Now with a little luck I can get home before it all falls apart.'
But then he stopped short. The flight had been cancelled due to some minor technical difficulties. Fred would have to find another way home.
Almost by reflex, he pulled out his little used cell phone to hopefully enlist some aid from his friends. But after several minutes of trying and failing to make any contact, he begin to suspect that such communications were not automatic and in fact required activity by others to keep things working. Or else the government was now interfering with normal cell phone activity in order to avoid clogging the channels of communication. Military communications might have been given a higher priority and had now taken over the airways.
Fred stopped as he realized he would have to find his own way home.
Chapter Eight -- A Cast of Characters
Chapter Ten -- Uninvited Guests
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]