This is week 26 in volume 3 of the Saturday Survival Serial. To learn more about what the Saturday Survival Serial is, click here. To start at week 1, click here.
For all the camp at Plymouth had seemed like a pretty prison, Shannon now thought about it with something akin to fondness. On some days, she actually missed the place.
From the moment they got to Reed City, they were on a schedule that had them up and going fourteen hours a day. This was day five and she was exhausted. The day before had been even longer than most, due to the interrogation she had endured.
She had been summoned to meet with a “counselor” to supposedly help them with “adjusting to society,” but after the first five minutes, she knew it was something else entirely. The man alternated between friendly and suspicious. He would latch onto the weirdest things and question her incessantly about the smallest details. “How long did you sleep on the ground? How many other people did you have contact with before you came to the U.N. camp?”
It was enough to make her tell him where he could shove his questions. How the hell was she supposed to know that she would be expected to count the people she came in contact with since IT happened?
When he started asking her thoughts and opinions about the U.N., the way things were being done, and if she’d ever thought about leaving to live “outside,” the look in his eyes set off warning bells. Tread carefully, was the first thing that popped into her head when the line of questions had turned.
She’d told him the truth about everything, except how she really felt. She figured the man had some sort of training to tell when someone was lying so she told versions that were close enough to the truth for her face to remain earnest.
“Where else would I go? What would I do? I have no wish to be alone out there, thank you very much. I hear people have turned savage and cannibal. Why would I ever want to be out in something like that?” He seemed satisfied with her answers , switching back to being friendly before dismissing her with a greasy smile.
She asked Pako this morning if he’d also been to see the guy, which Pako confirmed. He told her that the man’s name was Eugene when she’d realized that she hadn’t been told his name before he had launched into the questions.
“It’s a mentality check, a loyalty check. They want to see where your head is, if you can be trusted or not,” Pako told her under his breath.
Shannon smirked. “Well, you know what that means, don’t you?”
Her question was met with silence as they walked to their respective shifts. She glanced at him and saw him shake his head slightly.
“It means, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. We need to find out what it is and get word back to Plymouth. When can we send a letter?”
“You could write one anytime but there won’t be a run until next week. They want to make sure things are in place,” Pako replied. They slowed down at an intersection that would take them in opposite directions.
“You mean they want to make sure they have things secured and locked down,” Shannon commented.
Pako grinned and nodded. “Sharp as ever! Meet me for dinner tomorrow? Get the others, too.”
They had agreed and went their separate ways. Now, though, she was so tired that all she wanted to do was sleep. She wasn’t sure food would be worth the effort at this point. That must be how they plan on keeping us in line, working fourteen hour days so that we’re so tired, we just want to sleep. Shannon pursed her lips in irritation at the nut she was trying to tighten. Though she’d been given better equipment to work with, there were still little things that she’d had to be imaginative with. Making the nuts from whatever smaller metal pipe she could find, which wasn’t much, had proven to be the only way she could secure the sections of pipe together. She had bolts galore, but had run out of the right sized nuts on the 3rd day.
She stood up straight and arched her back, trying to work the ache out of it and looked around. It was always so quiet, no matter where you went, that it seemed she lived in a library. At Plymouth, at least there were always people around with at least a friendly smile and wave. Here, people looked at you with reserved expressions and though polite, the body language gave off a clear “Don’t get close” message. If not for Pako and Dale, she would likely lose her mind. Wouldn’t that please Mr. Counselor, she thought snidely.
Glancing at her watch, she realized she was getting behind if she wanted to be done with this section today, plus have any energy for dinner that night.
Jimmy woke up to the sound of the rooster and glanced out the window. It was still dark but he could tell that dawn wasn’t far off. He laid there a moment, listening to the sounds of his wife and children’s steady breathing. He took comfort knowing they were safe. As soon as the thought entered his mind, he felt his body tense up as the weight of what was coming, whatever that was, and the role of leader settled on him again.
It had been two days since they’d gotten back from the Gathering and Jimmy knew he had to get groups organized, have meetings, make decisions, and try to make it all look like he knew what he was doing. The lack of information was driving him crazy.
Thinking about the gathering and how it had gone on the last day, he briefly smiled as he recalled the lively suggestions people had made for the new code word used to identify each other as friendlies. Though most everyone knew each person from the other camps already, it was still a good practice to keep.
The choices had come down to using a bird, a robin since it was the Michigan state bird, or talking about a dog. That one had taken a good half hour as people tried to say their favorite breed should be the codeword. In the end, Jimmy had decided to compromise. He felt rather clever that the ‘compromise’ also added a layer of security, too.
He had said they would use both. The mention of a robin would be the opening code word, with the mention of a dog as a reply. The reaction was everything he had hoped; enthusiastic and full approval of those gathered.
I’m going to have to get word about the change to Liberty’s Teeth people. How the hell am I supposed to do that?
Unable to fight it anymore, he eased himself out of bed and tended to the necessary before putting water on to boil and stoking the fire. He drank some tea made from leaves Amie had gathered and dried, wishing for coffee as usual. It had been some time since he had even a sniff of coffee. Though he knew this was the way things were now, some things were just too hard to give up.
Amie got up and made a quick breakfast of greens and a couple boiled eggs. Now that the chickens were fully done with the molt and warm temperatures, the eggs were plentiful. One change he was surprised with was how many people in the outlying area around Center Camp had chickens of their own and didn’t bother with trying to get any. That left more for those who lived “in town.” The thought made Jimmy chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Amie asked.
“I was just thinking about chickens, eggs, and how Center Camp could turn into a town someday. Like the places before: Dodge City, Kansas or Deadwood, South Dakota. They were rough and tumble frontier towns that eventually became huge cities.”
Amie grinned at him. “Thinking to leave your mark on history, Mr. Walker?”
Before he could respond, one of the twins started fussing as they woke up. Of course, that woke the other one up, too.
Amie laughed and said, “There’s your mark on history. At least, your legacy.” She went into the bedroom to tend to the kids.
Jimmy grabbed another handful of greens to finish with his egg and he headed out the door.
That afternoon, Jimmy was laying out specifics with the volunteers who would be doing larger patrols when Ryan came running up to him. “Jimmy! You need to come to the Comm Shack. Jess said you don’t want to miss this!”
Jimmy’s stomach sunk into his feet as he nodded to the group in a dismissal before jogging with Ryan back the way he came. As they walked through the door, the sound of music…The National Anthem! was playing, making him stop dead in his tracks. The look on Jessica’s face was one of shock, hope, fear, wariness, and disbelief.
“What…..?” Jimmy tried to ask, but the sound of the music hit him so hard, he stopped and simply saluted as it played. Jessica’s eyes were filling up as she reached for the volume and turned it up as loud as she dared go without blowing the speaker.
The increased sound spurred Ryan into action. He turned and opened the door wide, letting it spill out into the main area of camp. People stopped and stared. Gasps were heard across the clearing. A few started moving closer, which broke the spell on the others who followed suit. Before the song was over, everyone within earshot were close but word spread fast and, in the silence that followed after the song, people were running up.
Jimmy didn’t even try not to cry. That song, one he had heard literally thousands of time and vowed to defend with his life gave him both pride and a bitter sense of loss at what had once been. It was a completely different life, and lifetime, ago, never to be known again by him or any other person alive.
The thought hit him just as hard but had a hardening effect. He would do whatever it took to get rid of the U.N. presence here, along with protecting what they had all built. After what seemed an eternity of quiet, a voice crackled over the speakers. Jessica moved to lower the volume but stopped at a gesture from Jimmy.
“We play this as a reminder to those who hear us. Though painful, hearing it reminds us that there are those who have gone down the same path we are now: that of free people fighting to keep their right to govern themselves and make their own choices. Liberty is everything for without it, you have slavery. Find like minded people, work together! We gather, even now, to overcome and claim our right as free men and women of this new world!”
The speaker went quiet again for a moment before the scream of an electric guitar was heard. At first, those gathered were stunned. As the next few notes began to play, it was clear it was the Star Spangled Banner again only this time, it was the classic rock rendition played by Jimmy Hendrix. People whooped and hollered, clapping, laughing, and crying all at the same time.
Jimmy was among those laughing. To play the classic style, followed by the rock and roll style had to really tick off all the right people at the U.N. It was cheeky, to be sure, but the morale boost that was going across the waves right now should make the enemy listening pucker up just a bit.
The song ended with a lot of cheers and smiles. The group quieted down quickly when the voice said that there would be transmissions at least one day a week. They wouldn’t always have music, or be from the same location “To keep the enemy on their toes,” but that if there was a transmission in the morning, there would be one in the evening as well.
Cheers went up again as they signed off, encouraging people who wish to be free to work together and join forces. Jimmy and Al shared a look that said volumes. Through mutual agreement, they went to The Hall and sat at their table in the back, discussing what had just happened.
“At least it’s good to hear something, I agree. The trouble is, what does it really mean? We still don’t know if our people made it all the way to Plymouth, let alone how we will get information in and out of Reed City and to Liberty’s Teeth. I feel like someone built a train station here but forgot to lay the track.” Jimmy sat back, rubbing a hand over his face in frustration.
Al nodded and glanced out the window at the sound of laughter. “Still, you can’t deny the effect it’s having on everyone. Imagine what the U.N. thinks.”
Al and Jimmy shared a smile before falling silent, lost in their thoughts.