Several hours after escaping death by flood, the busses bearing settlement camp residents turned into what was previously Plymouth, Indiana. They all stared out the windows in silence as they passed through the areas of town that had been burned to the ground. A few stone buildings here and there stood in the Spring sunshine, their charred surfaces resembled a sort of artistic mural.
They pulled into the parking lot of what looked to be school but the lettering had been taken down and in its place was a sign that read, “PLYMOUTH – UNITED NATIONS SETTLEMENT CAMP. OPERATIONS.” Shannon rolled her eyes. They always have to make sure they label everything with “United Nations.” As if this would be anything else with the roadblock and checkpoint they had gone through. Behind the building though, she could see houses intact, the roads cleared of any vehicles, trash, or life. It was an eerie, barren scene. She had to suppress a shudder. Even if you put whip cream on top, it’s still a shit pie.
The bus stopped and Sergeant Stupid stood up at the front. He hadn’t said anything to her after she had laughed at his question. Thankfully, no one else had confirmed that she had indeed called him the nickname she’d made up for him. While she was a little on edge about the consequences, she felt fairly confident that nothing bad would come of it. She had helped to save a higher ranking officer who was in the jeep. He’d seen and heard everything and knew it was her who’d really saved them with her quick plan and action.
“Welcome to Plymouth Settlement Camp. This will be your new home.” He took a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it and began to read.
“Residents are not allowed to leave the camp unless they have the proper authorization. Checkpoints are at every road leading in and out of the camp. Wristbands will be issued to you inside this building here where you will also be given more information on what will be provided and expected of you. Should you come across someone who does not have a wristband for this camp, you are to offer assistance and report them immediately to the nearest authority.” He looked up at everyone while putting the paper away and nodded to the driver to open the door.
“Gather your stuff and head inside.” He stepped off the bus and stood outside by the door.
Shannon stood up and slung her pack on, getting in line to get off the bus. As she stepped down the stairs, Sergeant Stupid put his arm out to stop her.
“Thank you, again, for saving my life and the others. It was impressive. Oh and the name’s Piede, not Stupid.” He winked before dropping his arm and going back to his soldier stance.
Shannon walked fast to catch up with the rest, unsure how to handle what just happened. All thought of it was taken away when she walked through the doors. The smell of food was the first thing that registered. The second was the people behind tables that was checking people in and issuing wristbands. They were dressed like normal people, not soldiers. She watched in shock as one of the guys made a joke with the person he was helping. She was instantly suspicious and watched the others closely as she progressed in line.
What she saw seemed too good to be true. It felt like she was registering for some expo or event, not for a place to live. There were plants in the corners of the entry way and as she got closer, could see tables with clothing, bathroom items in bags, and the smell of food was stronger. She felt dazed from the surrealness of it all as she moved to the table.
“Hello! Welcome home! May I get your name, please?” The woman on the other side of the table smiled up at her and was poised with pen in hand.
She gave her name and looked behind her at the others still waiting. A sense of relief washed over her upon recognizing she wasn’t the only one who was having a little culture shock. After so many months behind walls and treated a certain way, this was enough to throw their balance off a bit. It was enough to shake the feeling off and pay more attention to her surroundings.
“Okay, I have your band right here. Which wrist would you prefer?” Shannon held out her right arm. The woman fastened it on. “These are very durable and waterproof. You are not to take it off unless it poses a limb or life losing threat. In the case that something happens to it, you are to report here immediately to get a new one. There are limited replacements.”
The material was made of some kind of flexible plastic that couldn’t be torn. Shannon looked at it closely. It was a darker blue but you could still make out the black letters that read, “PLYMTH RES. U.N. SPCLST.” Shannon would have laughed at the U.N. labeling again but this time, it was on her wrist. Like she was the personally owned property of the United Nations or something.
She thanked the lady and moved on, comparing the wristband identification to the driver’s licenses in the old days. It wasn’t much different but it still felt wrong somehow. As she walked through the doors, the few tables she had seen turned into dozens of tables stacked high with supplies and provisions of a typical midwest life before IT happened. On the far end of what was obviously the old gymnasium of the school was a kitchen area that was the source of the food scents. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, jumping when someone spoke.
“Smells amazing, doesn’t it? You can go get food first if you want.”
Shannon turned and looked at the man who spoke to her. He was smiling at her and she found herself smiling back. He was a little under six feet tall with brown hair and matching eyes. His hair was grown out a little but still on the shorter side. He chuckled at her reaction.
“Sorry to startle you. I know how you feel though. I got here yesterday to help get things set up. Used to be a soldier but opted to settle down here instead.” He stuck his hand out. “My name’s Pako.”
Shannon took his hand and shook it, “I’m Shannon, nice to meet you.”
“You, too. Anyway, go ahead and get food if you want. Then, when you’re ready, line up over there to get your house assignment. There will be a meeting here tonight at 1800 hours where the mayor will fill you in on the rest. Your first day is all about getting settled in. By the way, what are you specialized in?”
Shannon looked at him questioningly. “Specialized? I’m an engineer and know water and sewer systems…”
Pako nodded. “Oh now that is valuable. Sure hope I got on your good side. I will have you to thank for running water and a functioning toilet once those systems are up.” He smiled and said goodbye before walking away to talk to another person who came in.
Shannon decided to get the food first and was just about done when Joli came over with her tray. They were eating a delicious ham soup with fresh rolls. Shannon had gone back for two refills of lemonade, too. It was made from a mix but she didn’t care; it was delicious.
“Is this crazy or what?” Joli sat down and looked around before taking a bit of bread. “I feel like I’m in a dream and at any minute, someone will say “Just kidding! Back on the bus!” It’s unnerving.”
Shannon nodded her agreement and looked around at others coming in. Another bus must have come in because she didn’t recognize any of the newcomers. “I’m right there with you. I wonder if the housing we are assigned is done a certain way. I don’t want to be somewhere I never see a face I can trust. It would drive me over the edge. This is all just too good. Remember when we were back at deployment camp and I stopped suddenly?”
Joli nodded, taking bites of soup without stopping to talk.
Shannon leaned forward and lowered her voice, speaking quickly for fear of someone separating them. “We aren’t really free. We have these bands, we can’t leave, we’re to report anyone without a band…does that sound free? This is just a nicer jail.”
Joli stopped eating and looked at Shannon, both of them looking around quickly and waiting for someone to shout at them to sit up straight or worse, take them in for questioning about why they were talking so quietly and closely. After a minute with no one reacting whatsoever, they looked back at each other, nervous, wary.
“I don’t want to trust it.,” whispered Joli.
Shannon just nodded and finished her food.
The day after the most recent storm dawned clear and cool. Sunlight glinted off puddles dotting Center Camp’s main area. Jimmy’s heart sank when he saw the garden area covered in a large pool. He could tell by the cold frames still in place that there was at least 3 inches of standing water and could see sprouts floating here and there. Sighing heavily, he went back inside to break the news to Amie.
“We will make it through, Jimmy. We’ve come this far and look at the bright side; all that ground has just been re fertilized!” She smiled at him before turning back to the food cooking on the wood stove.
He stood there, surprised at her reaction. He’d expected her to be freaking out and made a comment about how calm she was. She shrugged.
“Living this life has taught me that all we really have control over is how we react to whatever’s presented to us. We have limited seeds to replant with, it’s true. But we also have a lot more foraging knowledge than we did last year and we can transplant some wild stuff, gather seeds this Fall, do whatever we need to. I’m not saying it will be easy but we can make it. We aren’t at the worst it can be.”
Jimmy nodded, taking in her words and point of view when his infant son, Brad, gurgled and cooed at him. He turned, smiling and made noises back. Grace turned and looked at her dad with wide eyes, arms moving excitedly. Reaching down to tickle their feet, he considered what she said.
“It just seems like there is so much chaos and bad news constantly. Add in the rains and flooding constantly threatening to wash us all away and it weighs a person down.” He smiled down at his kids and stood back up before continuing. “You’re right, though. And I choose to react by getting things dried out here, focusing efforts on getting a more permanent levee built, and when the ground has drained, replanting whatever we have left. As for you, I would really feel better if you stayed around the house today. With all the water and muck, the sickness and now stagnant water, it’s not going to be safe or sanitary out there.”
Again to his surprise, she nodded and kissed him on the nose as she set a bowl of food down on the table. “Alright. I wanted to open the cabin up and really clean anyway. Today is as good a day as any and we definitely have enough water in the catch. Might do some laundry, too, if the twins let me.”
He grinned and offered to get the hard to reach areas when he came back later. Eating quickly, he got his boots and jacket on and headed out to the Comm Shack where Jessica was already hard at work. Several members of camp were hanging around, waiting to get their assignments for helping clean things up. Jimmy shook several of the people’s hands and smiled, thankful for these people who had become one large unit working together. His wife’s words rang in his ears again, “I’m not saying it will be easy, but we can make it.”
Jessica eyed him warily and bluntly asked, “Why are you so chipper? Did you see the gardens? Do you know how little seed we have left? Oh and the water pump is gone, as is half the piping that went with it.” She stopped her tirade when Jimmy started laughing.
“Ever the ray of sunshine, Jess. Yes, I am aware of all of that. Plus, we have the U.N. camps being established, moving north toward us and with us on their radar. OK, I didn’t know about the water pump. That sucks, no doubt about it but there are many water catch systems already in place.” He gestured to everyone in the Comm Shack listening.
“But look at us, Jess. Look at all of these people who’re here without being asked or paid to. We are a unified group and we have already made it through some really awful spots. Think of it like this. We survived a human disaster, and now we are dealing with Mother Nature. She’s a prickly one, no question, but we can make it through this, too. So stop being a Negative Nancy and let’s get things draining, dried out, and move on to making it less of a problem next year.”
The people around him nodded and grinned. Jessica eyed Jimmy again at the end of his little speech and sniffed before saying, “We’re not done talking about this.” Jimmy grinned at her in reply. “Now, I need two people to help get the gardens drained-” she stopped when Jimmy held up his hand.
“How about we put as many bodies as will fit on each project. It will get done faster and not have everyone so spread out.”
She nodded and said, “Sounds good. Start with the levee and shore it up, then get the garden drained. I will let you know what we have left for seeds. It will be a few days before we can replant again anyway. After that, I need the buildings checked for leaks and repaired. Finally, Jimmy, I need you for a meeting with RR and Tyler.”
He nodded and turned to everyone else with a smile and said, “Alright, we’ve got our marching orders. Let’s get to it!”
Al walked along the banks of the flood waters. Though they had gone down some, it was still too deep to get into camp. Or what’s left of camp, anyway. The only buildings still standing were his cabin, the main gathering hall, and a handful of others that had been built with logs instead of cut wood. Even those were in bad shape with some of them shifted by the force of water, leaving them listing to one side.
What worried him more were all those missing. Their number before the flood was 53. Only 39 had made it to the emergency cave. He tried not to think about them or see their faces in his mind. The image of a body floating along in some debris would forever be etched in his memory and he was glad no one was with him. Though he wanted to bury the dead properly, he had to tend to the living for now.
It had been decided that they’d make for Jimmy’s camp as soon as they were able to and Al had gone out to see if the water had dropped enough for them to be able to even leave this area, let alone make it the 12 miles south to Center Camp. Al could already tell they would have to wait until tomorrow and check it again. He was just about to turn around when he heard someone call out, “Al! Over here!”
He looked up and saw two people from his camp who were clinging to a larger tree, high up in the branches. They had moved here from Main Camp after the Autumn Gathering last September. The thought made him sad. The Spring Gathering should be next month but with all the damage done and his camp gone, he wasn’t sure if there would be one or not. Plus the U.N. on the move.
He waved and called out for them to sit tight, he was going to get some rope and help.
When he got back to them with others, they made quick work of getting them to shore. Blankets were wrapped around them as they were helped back to the cave. Al told everyone that they would be here another day and gave his report of what was left. The news was taken with a resigned grumble and people went back to the projects they had been working on.
Supplies were being distributed so no one was carrying too much and lengths of rope, clothing, or whatever material that could be securely tied was being stockpiled. Each person would have one that would be used in case of any river or creek crossings so they could tie themselves to each other. If people lost their footing, the others could hold tight so no one was washed away.
He sat down with his family at the fire ring Austin had made with large rocks. He hadn’t voiced his worst fears yet but it kept whispering in the back of his head: What if Center Camp is flooded out, too? What will we do then?”
Master Sergeant Jeffrey Miller stood at attention in one of the back offices of the Operations building at the Plymouth Settlement Camp. The man talking to him was a former First Sergeant in the Marines, now turned mayor for the settlement.
“…know how it may look, a First Sergeant becoming a mayor of a town. Like I’ve gone politician but that’s not the case. The world is being shaped by military standards and procedures and I am first and foremost a Marine. Our mission is to save the human race. I don’t really care for the orders but I do my duty when called.” He stepped into Miller’s line of sight and looked him in the eye. “What do you think about that?”
“Sir, I think that is what any good soldier is supposed to do.”
“Oh bullshit Miller! Don’t give me the standard answer. Tell me what you think about it. Speak freely.”
Miller raised an eyebrow ever so slightly and asked, “Are you sure about that, Sir?” The man crossed his arms and waited. Miller took a deep breath.
“I think it sounds like a living hell. You’re going to deal with complaints and drama and whining civvies. Your days will be filled with supply lists and duty rosters, lazy bastards who don’t want to pull their weight. It’s not a job suited for a soldier. Sir.”
The man chuckled and shook his head. “Well, you’re right about the last bit, anyway. As for the other stuff, there are some things about the camps that haven’t been made common knowledge yet. There are many layers to this plan and it’s about time you learned some more of them. Take a seat and then have a shot with me. You’re going to need it.”
Two hours later and Miller came out of the mayor’s office lightly buzzed from the two shots he took and the new information he was just given about the underlying workings of these camps. The way each one was part of a larger spiderweb network that would be spread across the continent. How each settlement camp would supply deployment camps that established the settlement areas. His group was a test of how these new deployment camps would be created. Seemed the higher ups approved of his burning areas to ensure there would be no squatters or easy places to hide. His joke about the ground being more fertile from the ashed had also been heard higher up. They were so impressed with his work that he had been assigned to establish another settlement camp. The idea of being a soldier-turned-mayor wasn’t so bad, now that he knew more of the larger plan. It was genius in both the simplicity and logical way it was designed. With children being separated from their parents for education and training, something he was assured would only last for two generations at most, it wouldn’t take very long before humanity had recovered and was able to really rebuild.
He walked out into the sunshine and watched as another bus of residents were shuttled in. He heard the door close behind him and turned to see Eugene standing there with an expectant look on his face.
“Please, please tell me we get to move north now and take care of things?”
Miller was mildly amused about the man’s unwavering drive to get at this Jimmy Walker guy. While it could be annoying from time to time, he had to admire the guy’s tenacity. He nodded at Eugene.
“Yes. We leave in the middle of May, heading north. The orders have changed a bit, though.” He looked over toward the people shuffling off the bus now, looking around at their new surroundings.
“We are to head back into Michigan to the location of the last deployment camp. We aren’t going to be on a manhunt, though.”
“WHAT?! After all those months of-” He stopped talking when Miller turned and looked at him again.
“As I was saying, we won’t be on a man hunt. Instead, we will be establishing another settlement camp and I will be its mayor.”