THE ARRIVALS: TALES OF A NEW EARTH
Part 2 - On the Eastern Seaboard
We started south after we passed through West Freehold in northern Jersey, the people there were as always, downright unsociable folk. Not saying they did not have reason to be cautious. This area was frequented by roving bands who escaped the fall of New York. It is one of the stranger things about the Arrival, that thousands of predator trees landed in the major metropolitan areas of Earth. It wasn't as if they targeted the cities, but for some reason the creatures found their way to major population centers if they didn't initially land there. So people were attacked both while they fled cities from the creatures at their back and once again by alien hordes coming into cities. This increased fatalities three fold in the earliest hours of the Arrival.
Survivors fell into three categories. Builders, people who found ways to turn the wealth of the Old World into a means of survival, building new much smaller walled cities and growing what they can when they can, raising animals if they are able to find them. The Feral, groups of humans who barely maintain any semblance of their humanity. They vary in technological competence from military effectiveness to dirty bands scrambling to live off the land or anyone not strong enough to protect themselves. And then there are the Moving. That's us. Our band is much smaller than most, right now, its just our family group, but we often join up with other Movers for protection in dangerous areas, sharing resources, ideas or helping Builders with the restoration of some of the Old World. The difference between the Movers and the warlike Ferals is we choose to move and choose to be non-violent if we can help it.
At West Freehold, we traded non-potable water for our vehicle's fuel cells. We would sterilize it later and make sure it was particle free when we had some time. We also managed to get some tough nu-potatoes and traded some high density batteries for their short range stunners used for hunting and repelling undesirables. For some canned extras, likely plundered from the major cities where no one would be willing to live, we gave them a windup radio we plundered from the outskirts of New York. There are still emergency broadcasts made on occasions depending on where you lived in the country. There was no effective government anywhere on Earth. Each area works to establish whatever can pass for a government and they seem to last for a while but almost always decay or are destroyed by Ferals or increasing populations of the predator trees or their other symbiotic life forms. It seems as soon as our populations start to increase in an area, word gets out and that area becomes more attractive to the aliens.
With the next bit of the road being some of the toughest, potatoes and other grub would be in short supply while we made the first dogleg south. We would make a stop in Philadelphia since there was a strong and thriving human community there. The trip to Philadelphia was long and circuitous because of the lack of decent roads in this part of the country. With building materials in short supply and active predators on the road, the people managed to build a decent barrier around the center of the city and do their best to keep it clear of the predator trees and their ilk.
We usually make a quick stop there, just long enough to trade some mail, rearm and if there was someone who needed passage south and can pay, we could take up to two more. Hopefully they could use a gun because this part of the route gets a bit hairy after Philly. Our route takes us from New York to the former capital in Washington DC. The direct route to the capital from Jersey would have taken a much shorter pathway but the roads were destroyed early in the offensives against the predator trees and their symbiotic allies by bombing runs. The roads were simply too effective at allowing the fastest of the creatures to move, so many were destroyed. It was against these very creatures we had to prepare for now. We called them tumblers. Scientists gave them some scientific name but what they resembled more than anything were tumble weeds. Except these did not roll harmlessly though old ghost towns. And they almost never rolled alone.
Our vehicle which doubled as our home, was full at the moment with my wife Martha sitting in the top turret, manning a fifty caliber rifle which had been added to our heavy vehicle, a military fast attack vehicle released at some point around 2013 called the Rhino. She is over sixty but a natural when it came to using the weapon. Who would have thought. We found the Rhino outside an army base that had been overrun a few years ago, and with just a few days were able to figure out how to load the fifty-cal and use it. Up until then, we had been using a solar assisted RV but it had been trashed by Ferals who had chased us onto that base. It had been small enough to have been missed by them and our luck had been to find active stockpiles of weapons still protected from the environment.
The vehicle resembled a Jeep except it was twice the size with none of the vulnerability. Hardened armor with the ability to add or subtract heavier armor plating we decided to ditch everything except for the lightest armor. We did not expect to run into any grenades, tanks, RPGs or bombs. Not too often at any rate. If it came to that, we would count on our speed and maneuverability to win the day. And the fact that Martha was a crack shot with the .50-cal.
Designed to be used by fast attack crews, it was designed exactly for our current lifestyle. Keeping it in ammo was the hardest part since the vehicle had been designed to run on a variety of power sources. It could be charged using plug-in or generator electricity, it had a backup gasoline engine and had rechargeable and replaceable fuel cells. The greenest and cheapest method of keeping it powered was using the solar film and electrical system on the outside of the vehicle. Lucas, my grandson told me the vehicle was covered with a multiple layered solar mesh designed to capture solar radiation completely and super-efficiently. He said the mesh would reroute energy even if it took small arms fire damage. Then he mentioned something about nano repair capabilities and I stopped listening. The boy continued on for another ten minutes before he realized I wasn't listening.
It also had solar blankets which could be set up to enhance its recharge rate when it wasn't moving. With two hours of sunshine we could move at low speeds of fifteen to twenty miles per hour for over six hours. And if the sun shone on it while we moved, we could conceivably drive all day. We would stop two to four hours before sunset, so it could gather and recharge if we had to move at night. It offers us a good eight to ten hours of travel every day, so if we are not in a rush, we can travel almost entirely without using any of the harder to get fuels such as water or even rarer these days, gasoline. Setting up the solar blankets was generally only done when we were safe since they took time to lay down and pick up. We hadn't figured out a quick way to deploy or retrieve them yet and they were simply too vital to risk.
Their kids, Sharon and Lucas were riding in the back of the vehicle manning the two electronic gun ports. Using a sensor array and a display system they targeted the two swiveling guns on the side of the vehicle. The guns were targeted with six electronic eyes on the hull and a laser targeting system to enhance accuracy. It required a steady hand and a sense for shooting while moving. None of us like to admit it but the kids used them far better any of us old people. But to keep everyone on their toes, we all spent time using them and using to shoot our collection of rifles, machine-guns and hand guns and no one went anywhere unarmed or unescorted. Ever. The gun ports were accurate to about three hundred and fifty feet, making them our preferred method of violent problem solving since the 5.56 ammo they used was much easier to replace than the much more precious .50 caliber ammo.
During our normal operations, I was the rear door gunner. The vehicle offered the option of firing from a gun port at the back. It was not very large, so you had to be a good shot. And for any long range shooting, I was even with my slowly diminishing eyesight, the best shot of my family. But we always rotated the duties to make sure everyone stayed familiar with all of the weapons and their idiosyncratic behaviors.
My daughter's husband, Marcus, was driving and kept a fully loaded Colt Anaconda in his lap. He was very good with it and could shoot and drive at the same time, if he needed to. Since the Rhino had bulletproof windows, it was often better to keep them up in hostile territory. My daughter, Linda rode shotgun and used a fully loaded military combat shotgun. Army surplus was all over the country and no one to tell her she couldn't carry it. She had years of practice with it.
Our plundering of military facilities over the decade since the Arrival, has given us access to a wide array of military technology and we dressed the part, carried the gear and understood the language. We spent at least two summers training with military survivors who had the good sense to run when the Arrival started looking like a rout. They were hard on themselves but after a few years facing the enemy, it was clear, they were numerous, terrifying and deadly. It is only because we are very careful and exercise cautious thoughtful interactions we have survived where more heavily armed troops died. We had two rules: Rule One: think before you shoot. Rule Two: Bullets don't always solve problems. Shoot sparingly.
You would think we should have more rules, but living out here as a Mover, you learn too many rules makes it hard for you to be able to think on the fly. Since the Arrival, more creatures have begun to appear as the well fed predator trees continue to grow in size and strength. There are places now where the predator trees tower over one hundred feet tall and have whole ecosystems springing into being at their roots. With new creatures appearing every day, we have to be able to observe, learn and tailor our tactics. Having survived for ten years out here, our reputations as couriers, messengers, escorts and scouts ensured we were well paid, well respected and depending on who you asked, just a little feared. We didn't promote violence, but we certainly had an awareness of situations which might go south on you and a knack for handling violence effectively and permanently.
The world was now very dangerous. It was no place for the stupid or the weak. Which meant knowing one more thing important thing if you planned on surviving. If you met any human on the road who had been there for a while, consider them the most dangerous thing you can run into. Yes, predator trees and their kin were always dangerous, but with humans you might drop your guard. That is a good way to end up with your throat slit. When consorting with humans, be even more careful than you are against any Arrival. Humans were simply too unpredictable with the fall of their world.
Leaving Philadelphia, we did not pick up any riders, but we did get a load of mail and goods needing to go to DC. The capital city was gone, completely overrun, but the Pentagon survived and continues to operate in a limited capacity as a hub of military deployment and intelligence regarding the Arrivals. Using brute force, the military keeps a clear path into and out of the city and what is left of the functioning government is found there. This government is in name only since it has very little economic, social or political clout. Since every other world power is functioning under the same handicap, the Arrivals have made the world a very equal place again.
Rumor had it we may get to meet the President with our latest deliveries. As we are leaving Pennsylvania, something seems wrong and Marcus stops as we approach the state line. I see it too.
"Pop, there is more blue than green. More black too." He pointed to the trees overhanging the road. They were not the symbiotic predator trees, they seemed to be more of the kudzu variety. Kudzu trees were capable of emitting a stupefying spore, which causes creatures to breath it and fall into a deep sleep. While sleeping the kudzu would have vine-like tendrils grab their prey wrap it up and consume it. Their only blessing was they could not move. Once rooted, they depended on prey moving toward them. They could also replicate other smells. I can personally attest to the smell of peanut butter, chocolate cookies, steak, pizza, and mangoes as part of their scent library. I am certain they can do others. One man said he was witness to a tree that could smell like the finest Chardonnay.
"Put your masks on. Check your filters. Go slow and lets see it a bit closer." After everyone was set, we moved up until we could identify more clearly what we were seeing.
My daughter, bless her sharp eyes, whispered, "tumblers."
Marcus stopped the car immediately and turned off the engine. Martha cleared the barrel for the .50. The kids cycled the long range gun ports. I grabbed two grenades from our stores, noting we had only fourteen left. This was supposed to be our supply stop.
I could see what had happened to the convoy. They did not notice the new black additions to this grove. If they had, they would have known that tumblers had taken up residence. Tumblers were fast growing, dangerous mobile seed pods. They could move on their own, without the need of wind. They attack prey they believe they can bring down, blasting it to bits with its own organic shrapnel with the force of a grenade. Tumblers attack in waves, with the earlier waves bringing down the food and later waves consuming it and bringing it back to the host trees. "I don't know what to think right now. I don't see any stragglers, so they may have already killed and eaten their fill. But that doesn't seem right. There are an awful lot of tumbler trees here. Far more than this tiny road should be supporting."
Martha looked down into the cab and said, "You don't think they may have grown in response to the Pentagon? It's the only thing that looks like a city nearby."
"If we are want to know, we need to go in on foot. The Rhino is only going to attract them. So who is staying here?" I will say this about my clan, their curiosity always gets the best of them. No one wanted to be left behind.
"Marcus, I need you here, Martha, he needs you on the .50. Back it up about a mile and set up a perimeter. You still have two of the small laser ranging bots. Put them out and keep your radio handy. Turn it on, every thirty minutes for two minutes. When we know more we will call in. Before you pull out, check for salvage here."
Everyone got their kit. One grenade, three clips of ammo, one small arm, with two additional clips. Masks and five filters good for eight hours apiece. So we have a day and a half to figure out what happened here. As we surveyed the military vehicles, there was food, water and weapons here, so they left in a hurry. There were tumbler explosions on all of the vehicles, low and into the wheel wells. Organic matter was caked up around every explosion. The only upside in dealing with tumblers is they are volatile and prone to explosion, so if you shoot at them and hit them, they tend to blow completely up and detonating their neighbors. This can work against you if you are amid their population when you start shooting.
Moving quickly and quietly we salvage the vehicles and the Rhino backs down the road. There is always that feeling of nakedness whenever the Rhino pulls away and we are not on board. But we had to know what had happened here; this was one of our primary drops and resupply points. If it was lost, the spiritual head of our government was dead too. We set out knowing it was at least a ten mile hike to the Pentagon from here; a hike through an area reclaimed by nature and the new Arrivals.
It was going to be a long walk.
© Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]