Edition 3: Serial Fiction: Avoiding The Searchers (Part 3 of 5) by M.F. Burbaugh
Previously, in Part 2, we found the narrator, Johnathan, and his friend Tonie, begin their dangerous reconnaissance mission. They took a detour at the remains of his old, pre-invasion home, and draw some impressive weaponry and other military equipment that were secretly cached. Later, they made a grim discovery, the remains of Tonie’s mother, father and young brother, who were executed by what appeared to be Earther ground troops. An intense need for revenge coursed through Tonie’s being. Following a close call with Searchers, they encounter a mysterious stranger. GH.
“Well, Seymour, what now?” I asked.
“Look, I just follow orders, honest. I ain’t supposed to let anyone past here,” he said, a touch of fear showing.
“Still haven’t answered me. Which of the three?” I asked.
“Listening post, we’re a mine group, honest. With the pirates running around, they keep us out here to warn them. I already did by the way.” He picked up a field phone handset, ancient stuff, but it works.
“Well, we just want to head toward Kyleford, some underground work,” Tonie said.
“We are hooked in to the HQ there. About twenty miles farther north,” he said, and relaxed. Very poor guard—told me far more than anyone should without identifying us for certain. About then I saw another man coming up behind him and one skirting the left flank, both armed.
“Thought they said only bats?” I asked.
The new guy said, “Well, it ain’t their damn hides is it?” I saw the red glow of his IR goggles as he looked into the barrel of my SAW. “That ain’t exactly a water pistol you’re carrying.”
“Tell your flank to be cool or he dies. We are passing through, didn’t know anyone was alive in this area. I just need to get 100 miles north of Kyleford to an old satellite link on the base there. Underground business.” I think he knew the SAW wasn’t a fake as he raised his voice into the dark and told a guy named Frank to just watch us.
“Well, I got watch command. Go back the way you came about two hundred yards, there is an old path off to the left that skirts our whole area, it will bring ya out by the mountains a few miles north of here. Forget ya saw us and be on your way,” the older man said.
I thanked him and told him what his guard had blurted out to us, loose lips and all. He said he’d handle it. Tonie and I slowly backed into the night as he said, “Good luck.”
About 30 minutes later she asked, “Satellite station?”
“Old airbase up there. They were using it to track the orbits of the mineral hunting satellites. Dad told me about it. Locals know of it, not what it does. Anyway, didn’t want to let them know what we were really up to.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, as we pushed on to the base of the mountains again. Yes, we were a few miles north of where we were stopped.
We went about half a mile further when I found a fair pile of rock debris and in amongst that we managed to find a spot under some big rocks leaning against others. Almost a little den, and only a small entrance. We set our camp and were soon asleep. She would usually lay her head on my shoulder and fling a leg over to sleep. I pulled a plastic sheet over us, as it felt like rain was in the air. Later I found I was right.
I think we both woke on and off all day. The plastic would creep and we’d start getting wet as water dripped off the rocks above us, or one would try to roll over or something. It was a touch chilly as well, but we received enough rest and toward late afternoon the rain quit and the sun warmed it up as we slept on.
I woke before full dark and after checking the area I made a small fire and we had hot coffee and some warmed food. It was great.
Tonie said it still looked like a night rain. Much as I hated to, we broke out the noisy, dark green plastic ponchos and I helped her get hers over everything, and she did likewise. In the first hour it started to rain and it showered lightly all night as we trudged on through the mud and muck, paying careful attention to what tracks we left and where.
Two days and nights it rained. Looked like it might be an early winter at this rate. As we went to ground on the beginning of the third day the sun peeked out. We had just started skirting the mountains as they moved west toward Fantasia. I found a natural cave, it opened into a small room and behind some boulders I found a very small crack. I followed it further in a few yards were I had to take the pack off and get low to get through. It opened into a small washout room with a stream cutting through the corner. I checked—we could not get out through the water path, the crack was the only access but it was perfect for remoteness.
I helped Tonie drag the packs through and then went back to brush away our tracks. I could just make out some light through a crack in the roof, about 5 feet above my head; small, but fresh air. The water was clear and cold, maybe a foot deep.
I waited until the sun was well up as we set camp, and using the small portable stove we made a real meal. I couldn’t stop the smell, but there was no smoke or heat signature being given off from in here. After a stew of re-hydrated meat and vegetables with a pinch of sea salt, I was content.
Next thing I knew Tonie was stripped and went to bathe. When she was done she handed me the wet towel and soap. By now I wasn’t as shy. After I bathed she applied a little ointment to my shoulders, long ago turned numb. She smiled as I did the same to her. Then we changed out the clothes and she spent an hour cleaning and laying out all the clothing we had to dry, the dampness had some of it smelling musky. Next we were under the thermal, all but naked. “No ideas,” she said, as she snuggled into my stomach and was soon asleep. Ya I had lots of ideas as I snuggled up to her, but they would remain just that.
I woke with a start, it was sometime after dark. Once I remembered where I was it was okay. Tonie was awake and almost dressed. “Clothes are all dry,” she said.
I got up.
“Cat holes down against that wall,” Tonie said, seeing my need.
“Thanks.” I moved down that way and was soon back. We dressed out and carefully folded and stored the clean clothes.
“Let me check the entrance, be back in a second,” I told her.
I squeezed back through the crack almost to the room when I heard talking. Shit. I squatted down as I could just see into the room. Four guys sat around a small fire. Drinking, it looked like. Armed to the teeth. I slowly backed up, back into our little hole, and subbed Tonie, “Trouble.”
I crawled back forward and set a little remote listening device in the pile of rocks at the entrance, and backed up. I filled her in on what I saw and we listened. It was soon clear they were pirates, as one said, “You hear that guy squeal like a damned wounded bat when I shot him?” They all laughed. They talked about murder, rape, and stealing, then one said something that caught my interest. “Well, we earned 18 points in bounty from the Earthers so far. Only 12 more and we four will go to Earth. Too bad the others have to die.” I heard a little snort from someone.
We had moved back to our packs. “The Earthers pay a bounty on us to murder like them?” Tonie asked. She was visibly shaken. “These may have been the ones who killed my family, my brother.”
“Focus, Tonie, not our mission. Remember our mission.” I was afraid she’d do something silly as she picked up her 9mms and quietly installed fresh clips.
“They may have killed my brother, hell, David for all I know,” she said. It was vocal, she was agitated and I didn’t blame her but–
“Mission, Tonie, please, not to be seen or heard if possible, remember?” I reminded her.
She looked at me with tears in her eyes but nodded as she reset the camp. We weren’t going anywhere tonight, we were stuck.
I placed one of the spare earpieces on top of a small stick recorder we had. It recorded voice and visuals from the binoculars, or scopes. Both a plug-in memory stick and an open source device. Terrabytes of space. It would cover anything they said. We sat and listened to them brag to each other of the terrible things they did to others. One said something about how the girls with the men now actually thought a little sex was going to buy their lives. How even the guys thought the Earthers would take them along too. They seemed amused. Tonie was not.
“Tonie, please try to fight it,” I whispered, as she almost screamed when one mentioned killing fools in Nellville. I had to physically hold her. I think maybe it was a bad idea to bring her after all.
“Let me kill them, it will be worth dying for!” She was seething.
“Tonie, is it worth killing everyone? Milly, James, the whole planet? We have an important mission, sorry, even more important than revenging your family, or mine.” I was fighting my own feelings and trying to calm down Tonie and felt I was failing at both as these bastards bragged on into the night. Finally they feel asleep or passed out. Tonie had sobbed a little but did nothing stupid.
“John, please, let me kill them? I’ll be quiet, just slit their throats and be done.” She wasn’t teasing and I believed she could do it.
“Look, I’ll make you a deal. We complete this mission and find what we need to find out, part of which is them, then we will come back here and if feasible, we will kill them.”
She stared at me for a full minute. “No, we will never come back here, Fred wouldn’t allow it.”
“No, Tonie, I want them dead too. I mean we will come back on the way back, our last act before heading home.”
“You promise?” She again searched my eyes there in the almost total darkness. “Let me think on it.”
We sat the rest of the night, listening to them snore out, a bit before daylight someone came in and woke them. “Sir, a message on the radio, the General wants us to keep an eye out for two underground agents believed to be moving in the territory someplace. They apparently took out a couple of Searchers and killed two of our guys that went to check it out. The old shack down by the river.”
“Ya, ya, get out. The river is days away, they ain’t stupid enough to come up this way, they know where the Earthers landed.” He snorted as Tonie just smiled. Guess the missile did go off.
I smiled back as it started turning light. “See?” I whispered. “We already picked on them.”
“Get everyone ready to move out, we’ll head back toward Ghostwater, I know they got a cave there someplace, I heard rumors when I was working in the spaceport,” one of them said.
“Okay, we’ll be ready in 30 minutes. The women?” Another asked.
“We travel light,” the apparent boss said.
Later I heard four shots in rapid succession. I didn’t say a word but I think Tonie knew.
I waited two hours after we heard the last of the noise and we went outside. They were gone and left litter behind. Down the trail we found four young women, naked, hands tied behind their backs, and shot in the back of the head, their duty done, their dreams left unfulfilled. Tonie screamed and cried, “It’s them! They killed my family, damn it!”
I forced her back into the cave, then cleared the tracks into the little crack. We weren’t going anywhere in daylight.
I inflated the mattress and told her to try to sleep. Wasn’t going to happen, she was upset. I found the little tin Fred gave me. It had pills in it. I found a little pink one—’five hours guaranteed’, he said.
I handed it to her and my canteen. She stared at me and at it.
“Just a sedative. Fred thought you or I might see things we found disturbing. Mission requires us to be functional. Take it, please.”
She washed it down and was soon asleep. I managed to rearrange her and snuggle into her back as I brought my pack up behind us to rest against. I was having horrible nightmares as well—problem was I was awake.
Sometime late afternoon I was half awake as Tonie got up. I dozed back off.
Next I knew she was facing me and asked, “You promise we will kill them?”
“I promise, I promise.”
“Good, we seal it then.” She kissed me and I put my hand out to protest and realized she was naked.
I started to protest and she said, “I want to, I want to die fighting, not like them out there, trying to stay alive, to be butchered after believing—well you know. Please John, once, no promises except we kill them and I will hold you to that.”
Well, before night I was a virgin no more and Tonie just smiled. “Thank you, for the scratch and the promise. I will kill you if you don’t keep it, you know.”
“I know. Why Tonie? After what you said, Milda and all. Why?”
She shrugged. “I needed to put David and my family into the past, if only for a few minutes, to remember there is more to life than hate. That’s all.”
After a quick bath and some food we packed up and were just waiting for dark. As soon as it was we headed back out.
I was extra careful as we moved on toward Fantasia. I finally saw lights in the distance. A careful scan showed live troops moving in patrol style all around the perimeter of the city, and the lights were on. Yup, the Earthers were very confident.
We spent the remainder of that night skirting toward the north east. It was hard, the main roads were mined and patrols were everywhere, but we succeeded. I found an old storm drain that had collapsed about ten feet in—deliberately by explosion. I went back and carefully looked it all over. There were two fresh Horp nuts among the rubble; someone had been here recently.
Tonie found it, a large rock. I slowly moved it, no traps. It opened a hole. I looked in with the LAs, the drain continued on past the collapse.
We managed to squeeze everything through and I carefully placed the rock door back in place.
Tonie led the way, both 9mms drawn and ready. The LAs showed it was a straight tunnel, no side shoots, so it wasn’t a city drain system.
Had to be two hundred yards straight back into what I felt was the hill I’d seen outside.
Tonie started to step over some trash and I pulled her sharply back, “Wait,” I subbed. “The whole drain is clean except one pile?”
I had just seen a splash of red, IR ahead. Someone was watching us. The way it had vanished there had to be another tunnel ahead and I smelled a trap. “Put your pack down back here,” I told her.
When she was ready, I said, “Give me your hand and lean over the pile of trash, slowly.” I braced my feet against her feet. With my pack weight I could counterbalance her all the way with no problem.
She set her one pistol down and got a death-grip on my hand as she leaned out over the pile of trash and looked. “Pull me back,” she said.
“Long board. Anyone steps over hits it with their foot. On the end is a Searcher missile. Smart and not Earther. This is either an underground, or just some fear-filled people,” she said. “Thanks, would not have thought of checking.”
I said out loud, “We are part of the underground and on a mission. We mean no harm, honest. I found your trap, ingenious.”
I waited a bit and saw the IR again as it just peeped around the corner. A boy. “Who is underground?” From the sound only, he sounded maybe eight or nine.
“We are, we fight the bad Earthers,” Tonie said.
“A girl? You fight the Earthers too?”
“Yes, she does. Are you alone?” I asked.
“No, others, family and such. I’m guard now that they killed Ralphy,” the boy said said.
“Ralphy your brother?” Tonie asked, and the boy laughed.
“No, Ralphy was my dog. Wait there, I will get Billy to fix the trap.” He disappeared for a few minutes, then I heard another boy and a second set of IR goggles peek around the corner.
“She is a girl, Billy, honest,” the first boy said.
“I am not blind, be quiet,” he said. Then to us, “Who are you and what do you want?” From the voice I felt the second boy was in his early teens.
“I am Tonie and this is John, we are on a secret mission for a group called the underground, and we fight the Earthers.”
“See, a girl, just like I said,” the first boy said.
“Darrel, be quiet, I can hear.” Then, to us, “Okay, never heard of Earthers using women to fight, nor pirates either, so you’re different.” He moved up near the board. “Tonie, come near, I need to see, might still be a trick.”
Tonie went to the edge of the pile and took off her hood and shook out her hair. The boy’s intake of breath left no doubt he liked what he saw through the IR.
“How old are you?” Billy asked.
“Fourteen,” Billy said.
“Ah, almost old enough to have your first girlfriend—wonderful age, fourteen,” Tonie said. She sounded sincere.
“I got a girlfriend, well, if she is still alive. Mary, she is only fifteen and likes me, she said so.” He smiled.
“Wonderful, there are still a lot of us alive out there, maybe she is too.”
“Ya, well I hope so. So what do you want?” He was watching her every move, not out of caution, I could tell.
I stepped up and told him, “We need a place to stay until night, then we move on. Do you have any adults here?”
“I am an adult, I’m 14,” he harrumphed.
“So can we come in?” I asked.
“Well, gonna have to ask pops, I’m not in charge. Wait here, I will be right back.” He disappeared up the side tunnel. Soon an older man, no IR, came into view.
I could tell he just woke up, I would guess his age, but I don’t know. Old. He held a double barreled shotgun. “Who are you and how did you find this entrance?”
I told him the truth. “Found a couple of fresh Horp nuts outside, caused me to look. I cleaned it up and put it back.”
He cuffed Billy in the head, not hard but still. “Told you to be careful, see? You coulda got us all dead, damn it.”
“I knew what to look for,” I said, “the Earthers aren’t that smart.”
“Pirates I’m worried about. Screw the Earthers, they don’t search the mines ‘cept with them silly heleochopper things. But if they smell people, they send the pirates for the bounty. Mass murders is all they is, got a passel of them around here abouts.”
“Ya, ran into some near here yesterday. Can we stay until night? Then we need to move, we have an underground mission to do,” Tonie said.
“I reckon, heard of the underground, but I got a busted leg, and except a couple women, we got no one older than Billy here. Underground came by early on and said just to listen and write down anything we hear, they would stop and get it sometime. Never come back yet.” He nodded his head toward the tunnel and turned and crawled back down it.
Billy moved a rock carefully off the board, and then the board, and said, “Okay.” We crossed the pile of trash and he reset the trap, leading us down the tunnel telling Darrel to keep watch and keep quiet.
It opened into a big single room full of rubble. “Catch pit, use to be a clean out hatch above, but I blew the hill on top of it second day they came. Blew the main entrance as well—that hole and couple air shafts only way in and out now, they never see’d us in here and I got the shafts covered,” he said. “Not that we would be high on their priorities.” He snickered as he hobbled along, using the shotgun stock as a crutch.
“You’ll ruin the barrels that way,” I said.
“Don’t matter none, no ammo for the dang thing anyway.” He stumped on through another tunnel, a rock one, a mine. “This been my family’s mine for almost a hundred years, never bothered to keep it registered, only entrance was our house and that drain you came in. Gold, little silver and a lot of copper come out over the years. We weren’t rich, but did well. The bastards killed my first wife, two of my sons, and their wives, and all the kids ‘cept Billy and Darrel and Brenda. They all my great grandkids. Was helping me in the mine, well, being the usual pests really. Next I knew the Earthers blew my house to bits.” He was visibly shaking. “We picked up a few stragglers since, about it.”
We went through a series of tunnels and into a big cave-like room. Like ours, it had a couple of shacks.
“Left is drinking water, kitchen and stuff, Right is bunks and showers and water closet.” I guess he saw Tonie’s questioning look. “Toilet.” Tonie just nodded.
Soon we met the whole gang as we ate fresh fruit and fresh baked bread, and even a roast. It was heaven after all the dehydrated stuff we’d been living off of.
There were three women, two were maybe late twenties, one fortyish. He introduced the oldest as his second wife. First died when the house blew. He introduced a baby, about 2, as his daughter. The two in their twenties he said he had rescued, nothing more.
Later Tonie talked to them. They thought, like the four girls at the camp, that keeping the pirates warm and happy meant they lived. Turns out the old man used the last four shells he had killing the pirates detailed to kill the girls. They barely got away and the man took two slugs in the leg, shattering the bones. Hence the limp.
Tonie told them what we had seen and found; they knew. They had seen similar things, but were promised. One started crying and Tonie said she didn’t blame them for trying to live, but these were not honest people. Most miners never really married, it was all on a promise, but almost all kept their promises faithfully, even heard of a few being killed for breaking them. Still, I suspected the pirates were not miners, rather the dregs of the cities, never doing any work, sponging and stealing. We had originally left Earth because it was full of them, but the spaceways brought them here. Luckily our government was rather strict, and only a few slipped in, and a few were raised here. Still, it was enough.
The old man’s name was Henry, he was 73 and a new father, which said something of the stoutness of us miners. Tonie smiled when she heard it. We also found out the second wife was the youngest sister of his first one. Maybe answered a question I had. We finally got to sleep in the bunk house. They kept daylight hours and I explained we only moved at night. Soon the shack was dark, and quiet.
Sometime after I fell asleep Tonie came and slid in beside me. “Got used to it, sorry.” She smiled as I hugged her back and we slept on.
Billy woke Tonie. “Um, it’s 7PM and almost full dark in an hour. You said wake you, right?”
“Yes, thank you, Billy.” She reached behind her and patted my leg, “Time, John.”
We got up and Henry had a filling breakfast ready for us. He gave us a stack of notes to take, all his observations over the last six months, quite detailed too. “We’ll pass them on up the line, thank you,” Tonie said.
“No, thank you for letting us know there really are people out there trying to do something. I honestly thought maybe we were all that was left.”
“No, we believe as many as 40,000 are held up. We have many in the underground, we just need info. Soon—we will do something soon, I promise,” I told him.
We packed up and left. Billy let us by the trap and we slid out the tunnel entrance. I replaced the stones and looked at the ground, someone had been around there since we went in; several someones really. I drew my 45s, Tonie saw and did the same.
“Trouble?” she subbed.
“Maybe. Fresh tracks, adults, not us.” I slid out the end and carefully looked, both LA and TI and saw nothing. Tonie followed me out as I started up the hill. She was behind, then, almost to the top, I saw IR eyes, several pairs. I heard a voice I’d heard before and opened up. I put two 45 slugs into the closest eyes and I heard Tonie’s 9mms barking behind. I slid back down off the skyline and we spread out slightly. I heard Tonie reload, I saw another set of red and blasted and rolled as dirt splattered where I had been. The eyes were not seen.
Off to my right Tonie was making noise and I told her shush. She quieted down as I fired a couple rounds at another red eye up the hill. They had us surrounded as I fired off a few rounds at more red.
“Told ya they was around here someplace. Told ya.” The one I remember taking orders from the leader whispered loudly. I identified his position and was ready to fire when I saw Tonie, no mistaking her in the LAs. She jumped up and ran—she’d dropped her pack and had the rifle. She screamed something and ran straight at the voice. I saw red IR for a second, then her rifle spoke, then again and again, and again. I unslung my SAW. What a way to go, I thought, as I sprayed the hill below then the left side away from Tonie. I emptied the clip and reloaded. I saw some red move near the top and laid down a solid wall of lead—the screams told me I didn’t miss.
I saw Tonie run over the top, changing clips as she went, then hell broke loose as shots were flying every direction. I had finally dropped my pack, and as I cleared the top, I got to do a bat hunt. I just saw a body and pot shot, it screamed, then I saw a second and dropped it on pure instinct. I heard Tonie yelling and screaming and the 9mms going off as I ran up behind her. She had killed two guys and stood by a third, who was still alive and afraid.
I heard him claim, “I ain’t done nothing.” The leader.
“Well, unfortunately for you, among those nothings you ain’t done was executing her family.” I nodded toward Tonie. “You also killed four young ladies back by the cave.”
His eyes grew big, he was gonna die. Tonie tied his hands behind his back as he knelt and was begging for his life. I turned and went back down the hill a few feet keeping an eye on what was happening next.
Tonie came to his front and put the barrel of a 9mm against his forehead, and said, “Time to die, slime-bag.”
She took a step back and fired, almost point bank, then said, “Oops, missed,” as she shot him between the legs, and again in one leg, then the other. I finally put a 45 in his head and he stopped screaming.
“Spoil sport,” she said with no mirth, as she reloaded.
They say hell hath no fury like a woman who’s pissed off.
I counted them, we killed eight plus the leader. I suspected a few were at a dead run.
“Get any ammo we can use. I will tell the old man they gotta move.” She nodded. I gave her the SAW, just in case.
I went back into the tunnel and through the hole to the trap, when Darrel pelted me with some stones until I told him to stop.
He finally recognized me. Billy was there in a few seconds as was the old man.
“Your position is compromised, you need to move,” I told him.
“Can’t, no weapons, no place to go, and I can’t walk much. Reckon we die here,” he said.
“Why? Don’t your wife and baby mean anything?” I asked.
“Look, don’t play the sob game, won’t work. No place to go,” he said.
“First, there are weapons and ammo and 9 dead pirates outside waiting for the picking. Second, I know a basic spot you can go and be safe, and I’ll tell you where to send Billy to get help. Now, get the women and let’s move before daylight. I mean it, some got away.”
It took some effort, but we were moving. Darrel, Billy and the women hauled guns, ammo and food and such, as I led them back to the cave, then in through the crack into the back room. We helped them get set up as the ground shook bad and I heard a huge explosion.
The old man laughed.
“Little surprise I left behind, about a ton of plastic gel. Gee, someone unwrapped it.”
Since it was almost light Tonie and I stayed on through the day as I pounded into Billy’s head how to find Seymour and what to say. I gave him the notes from Henry and our recordings so far. “Tell no one anything except Seymour. All of them depend on you, Billy.” I waved my hand around the room. “Prove you are the man you say, get through, move only at night. Tell him I said I will kill him if they don’t help you, and tell him what we did back there at your hill.”
I told the old man, “They should send some help to get you all safe. Tonie took the 5.56 ammo they had and a few of the 7.62 ammo for me, but you still got plenty of firepower now. Just be careful, the pirates stayed out front so they know of this place. I promise we will check back to see if you’re okay when we are done with our mission.”
“You killed that whole lot, they will hunt ya like dogs. Be careful, they may not know what you’re up to, but they know it ain’t getting food,” he said.
“We blew our cover, but it was in a good cause,” I said.
“Well, not really, they was looking for me for a while. I killed three of them saving the girls. Maybe, never know what they think now—wasn’t no Searchers transmittin’ data, so maybe you still okay.” He smiled.
Finally it was dark and we bid our farewells. Billy had a small pack and even took a little 38 revolver one pirate had on him. We all went out and I pointed the way he needed to go. He nodded and quietly moved off.
We tracked back toward the hill, it was a huge pit now—that had been a massive bang. Searchers were all over the area, and something we hadn’t seen before, a vehicle with people in it. Earthers. From our distant point it looked like just two of them. The one in the truck sat in front of a screen, clearing work with the Searchers, the other was scanning the terrain, looked like maybe a TI unit. I carefully scanned the area; looked like only those two. Tonie didn’t say a word but she clearly pleaded. I used the scope, 650 yards, the SAW was no problem, but her rifle wasn’t gonna reach that far with accuracy.
I was fighting an internal battle and I lost to my desires. I set the SAW on its bi-pod and scoped them in, then set the range and windage from the scope info. I moved out-of-the-way and told her, “Take the one outside first, center mass, three shots is a one second burst, then switch to the guy in the truck, same, three shots, then we leave in a hurry, damn it.”
I watched through the binoculars. Turns out she was rock steady and didn’t need but one each—they both got dead in a hurry. She leaned over and kissed me. “Thanks, helps a little.”
We were gone in minutes. We gave the whole area a wide birth as we moved east and north. We spent the next day held up in a small ravine. I think we caused some concern. Searchers buzzed all over the place, some came close—no hole to hide in, we had to just hope. Our luck held as darkness fell and we moved on.
Around 4AM I felt we were close to the area they said to watch, so I started scouting. I found a medium sized ridge, maybe three hundred feet off the valley floor, and a good view back toward Fantasia and north east toward where our top HQ was supposed to be.
Tonie found what we needed. Someone had dug a small mine, maybe a hundred feet back into the mountain we sat on. It was long dead, covered in deep overgrowth and there was little rubble to point to a mine entrance. It had a slight uphill slant so even water ran out if it rained.
Once we settled in and I got to scope the area in daylight we found it was perfect. I could just see the main road heading toward the spaceport, and I plainly saw the hill James had made such a little dot on, our main HQ area.
The first day we spent there we saw a lot of Searchers moving along the roadway and out in the fields around the area, but nothing near the hill. From up here I could see a clear dirt trail that ran from the road toward the hill and disappear into the trees.
Tonie and I watched in shifts, often we’d both sit outside, absorbing a few rays, something we hadn’t done in a while. “Better get some sleep, I’ll watch until dark, then you can watch while I grab a few zzzs.”
She said okay and disappeared back inside. There was no room, just the tunnel—someone had followed a small vein and it petered out. She had the mattress on the rock floor, there was no stream or water supply near so we had to rough it and conserve our water. Well, part of it was solved near dark as a small storm blew through. I had the ponchos set up in no time to refill the canteens and two small pots we had.
Nothing happened all day and Tonie relieved me a little after dark. “No TI. Just in case, just watch the road and trail, see if anything moves.”
“Okay, get some sleep,” she said.
I crawled onto the mattress and it was all I remembered until Tonie was shaking me, and said, “Shush, got something.”
Born in the post war era of 1947 and raised in the farm country of upstate New York, MF Burbaugh writes in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. He has published a large number of short fiction, as well as two novels, Circle of Seven (fantasy – IFWG Publishing, 2011) and We Were Legends (scifi – IFWG Publishing, 2011). He has two more novels coming out in 2012. He now resides with his wife of forty years in El Paso, Texas.
MF Burbaugh’s bio page at IFWG Publishing