THE ARRIVALS: TALES OF A NEW EARTH
Part 5 - Summer is Coming
Waiting was always the hardest part. Marcus found a way to keep busy between shooting wayward tumblers and the occasional vampire-leaf fly by. He cleaned the solar cells on the side of the Rhino, maximizing the effective sunshine. Living on the road has given us an eye for the little things. I picked off two more tumblers wandering around with my rifle and he didn't even look up. It took a long time to get that kind of trust.
I can smell the hot wind blowing down the freeway, and it tells me this summer is going to be a beast. The climate is getting worse and the seasons more pronounced and brutal. I wish we could blame this on the Arrivals too, but humans had already screwed up the planet's weather before they got here. They only made it worse.
Woody said we should have gotten started earlier from Philly but the kids needed the downtime. I think he forgets we are all not ex-military trained and forest ranger hardened to the environment. He wants me to tell the kids to stay in one of the better protected cities but they are just like he is. Unable to sit still for more than a few days, maybe a week at the most. Then they get antsy and start wandering.
I checked the status display on the Rhino's upper turret controls and the vehicle's status was mostly in the green, except for two critical areas. Our water supply, while renewed in Philly was starting to get uncomfortably low. If we did not find water soon, we would soon have to start serious rationing.
From what we picked up on the radio, there was an incident and we would not be getting any serious supplies from the Pentagon without great risk. While water was critical, what worried me more was the satellite image data. It showed nothing but clear skies for the next two weeks. The temperature was going to be unbearable. We will start seeing days of 110 degrees starting by nine in the morning.
I laughed to myself. Woody hates computers and can tell the weather just by looking at the sky. That's okay too, gives me something to do. Computers were once something I was very passionate about. Then they came. Computer are now almost an anachronism, something wonderful, if you can get them to work and someone who knows how to use them. There are still people out there using them too. Places with stable solar or wind power facilities still have something of a grid and we connect when we can to trade information, maps and news. But its nothing like before. I try not to think about it.
Marcus took his turn on the turret in the next hour so I could get out of the sun. Taking off my head wrap, I am grateful I keep my hair short. Just as well, it was coming out in greater quantities every day now. Taking an inventory of the gear we gathered from the military vehicles, it was mostly ammunition. And while that's great, I would have preferred more food, or filter masks or higher-quality medical supplies. We will keep the best of these weapons and leave the rest. Ours is a juggling act between weight and mileage from our solar charged power plant.
When I was finished sorting and transporting the gear, I heard two clicks from Marcus. He could see them. Climbing back into the turret, I took the telescope and dialed its maximum settings. I could see Woody and the kids and they were plus one. A female from the look of her. Sarah was helping Woody, when he was not smacking her away for trying. I tried to hold down the urge to use the radio. We had learned the lesson of unnecessary radio use, and it would be meaningless at this point.
We gathered up our two short range sentry bots and slid them into the housing on the side of the Rhino. They maintain their charge, add a short range defense and double as external batteries when power gets low. I am happy to say they have spent most of their time lately as batteries and barely any time doing that. We have gotten our moving, charging and timetables down to a clean and effective schedule.
I tried not to worry and I took the turret, while Marcus made ready to move out. He activated only the electric engine which was very quiet, but very slow. We began to close the distance between us, shortening their walk. Other than the occasional tumbler, nothing seemed to be stirring. They looked terrible as they approached. I wanted to rush down and check on Woody and the kids but Marcus was the doctor.
Lucas took the wheel and eased us back on the road while Marcus checked everyone out. I kept an eye out but did not activate the .50 cal because we were running low on ammunition. My M16 would be enough for anything we could expect. We crept along at twelve to fifteen miles per hour and this was the ideal speed if we wanted to maintain this pace even through the night. There was a safe spot in Wilmington but it was over five hundred miles from here.
"Mama, I need your help." Marcus was hunched over Woody's reclined chair. The president and Sarah stood to one side watching.
"Sarah, honey, I need you to go up top. I will help your father. Talk to me, son."
"He has a fever. Likely an infection. In the last hour, he fell asleep and I though it was exhaustion. He seemed okay other than a nasty cut on his hand, and I took care of that. During the VSE, I discovered he has two fire ant heads still embedded on his back leg." After any time in the field, a visual study of the extremities is done for all members of the field team. Since Elwood was hurt, he was checked first. Once we stop somewhere, the others will also be checked, along with anything they brought back with them. All of that gear is stored in an outer compartment in case it was compromised.
Elwood was stripped down to his shorts and we could see the tiny flow of blood from his calf and the two ant heads tightly clenching his skin. The ants bodies were atrophied, likely from being burned and they reflexively locked their jaws. Nothing is going to be able to pry them open, so we are going to have to cut them out. "Okay, Lucas, can you find us someplace for us to settle down for the evening? We can give you an hour, and then we have got to start working."
"Yes, Mama, there is a small town on the map and its marked as a low infestation spot. I can do an uplink and see if its status has changed."
"Sarah, once he's connected can you update the Pentagon on the map to..." I look at the president.
She gives me a look filled with the horror of her experience. I want to tell her it will be okay, but right now she needs her tension to keep it together. "Mark it a category five. No one is to approach it for any reason without superior technology and flamethrowers. Of which there is entirely too little of these days."
"Have a seat madam President. You're safe with us." I tried to sound confident as I went over to her and took the flamethrower from her. It was empty but it was always better to stow equipment. She was reluctant to let go of it, as if it were a talisman. I did not rush her. We sat quietly and the hum of the electric engine, and the uplink connections were all we could hear for a few minutes.
Marcus busied himself prepping the cargo bay for surgery and had gather the supplies we were going to need. Woody's breathing was shallow and he was sweating. Marcus fanned him once he was done and opened the vents to allow a breeze, such as it was, to pass through the vehicles interior.
This little town was going to be a quick respite for us to perform the surgery on Elwood and then we would have to get on the road and move as fast as we can. While I was trying to be upbeat, I knew unless we got someplace protected soon we would be caught outside during the worst of all seasons.
Summer was coming.