It's been over a year since George was born and Jen and I were having a case of wanderlust. Her dad, Jim, wanted to find his friends who had lived at Salt Lake City. Jam had told him by radio that they were going to leave Dugway base and head south looking for a better place. That was the last transmission ever received from them and it had been almost ten years. Jim had worried but couldn't convince enough people to make up a search party to go looking.
His wives were willing since their grandson was going with Jen and I. Janice and Bennie wanted to go as did two other couples. That would make fourteen in the party including baby, George. My dad and mom were torn by what they saw as their duty to stay to Preservation and their desire to be with their son and grandson. Duty won out reluctantly.
We would leave in the spring on horses with two wagons equipped with a HF radio in each along with two meter rigs and HT's for local use on the trip. There was a big debate about using a gas powered vehicle but, in the end, using horses won out.
It was mid April when we left Preservation. My parents and others came to see us off. I could tell Dad and Mom were both not happy at watching their son and grandson both leaving them for a long trip. Staying in contact by radio would help but it's not the same. George would be walking before we got back.
Our initial route would be up to I-20 and follow it to Birmingham. All of this to Talladega was Preservation territory. From that point, we would go to Memphis and look for a crossing point. Crossing the Mississippi River might not be a casual item on our trip. Even though it was a little out of the way, we wanted to have choices going over the Mississippi before really heading north. After that, we would let the roads and the weather guide us.
We had reactivated the weather station. The warnings about bad weather had helped. The Lavacans really appreciated it as they were able to prepare for a hurricane last summer. We would appreciate it, also, as we headed north. It was warm in Georgia and Alabama but could get cold further north during this time of year. The Rockies could be a problem even into what is summertime in Georgia. We didn't want a Spring snow storm that we would have to live through or travel through!
Our trip to Talladega on I-20 was without incident. We met face to face some people who we had never seen and only heard. I remarked to Jen's dad that it was a big country. He replied, "Wait until you see the Great Plains and the Rockies. Crossing the Great Plains to the Rockies will take over a week."
We crossed Lake Logan Martin which was pretty much the western edge of Preservation land. From Talladega, we continued on I-20 and went up.
Most people think of the south as moderately flat and there is considerable truth to that thought. However, the southern tip of the Appalachians runs from northeast to southwest from the corner of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama to about Montgomery. There is nothing high but, on foot, on horseback, or by wagon, it was steep enough for right now. We rarely went into Birmingham since Atlanta was so close and were unsure of conditions there. Reaching Leeds, we stopped for the night camping beside the roadway as it crossed a creek.
As we were stopping, we could see smoke rising from a small fire. Someone was in Birmingham. We had picked a high spot just beyond the creek to place our main radio wagon and antenna. We looked west as various members of our party talked to friends and relatives in Preservation. Our binoculars picked out four different fires. I wondered out loud about them being signal fires or large camp fires.
Bennie was with me and said, "I think they are signal fires. You wouldn't want a camp fire to get that large and showy. The question is, 'Are they a warning or an invitation?'"
"That's what I wonder, Bennie. We are going to have to be careful tomorrow."
"Correct, Mike." Jen's dad said. "The road will be exposed and there's nothing much we can do about it. According to the map, we should be able to cut north on I-65 and pick up US 78 heading toward Memphis but that will be downtown."
Bennie said, "Jim, should we have people further on point?"
"No, I think we need to watch the road ahead and stay close enough for mutual support. The point people need to be very alert. However, it looks like most of the fires we see are south of our line. We don't want a confrontation but I would welcome a polite meeting with the inhabitants. We just don't know what's going on here and it would be nice to have more knowledge."
Our wagon and antenna were silhouetted against the sky though I doubt the antenna could be seen. We heard a voice, "Hello, the camp. Who are you and where are you going?"
Jim responded, "We are residents of Preservation in Georgia. We are on an exploring mission with plans to go out beyond the Rockies. Please, come in and let's meet."
We heard some low talk and then heard, "Don't shoot. We don't want to fight you. If you're telling the truth about just exploring, we will be okay. I'm coming in." We saw a figure rise out of the darkness and slowly come forward. I could see that it was armed though that wasn't a shock. People went armed because of animals if no other reason.
He arrived and Jim said, "Hello, I'm Jim Sinclair. This is Bennie Cook and that's Mike Mathews. We are all from Preservation." Jim smiled at the stranger.
He said, "I'm Al. We have this area for our own."
Jim responded, "That's great, Al. We are not here to try to take over anyone's territory. Like I said, we are passing through this area exploring."
Al shook hands with each of us. Jen came up with George and was introduced. We all sat down on the ground in the light of a lantern that Bennie lit. "Our leadership is trying to contact as many surviving groups as possible mapping out areas of interest and getting us talking. We have radios, antennas, and generators that we will give you." Jim said.
Al looked a bit startled at that. "What do you mean?"
Jim responded again. "We have a group of people in our community who were ham radio operators before the Day including me. We have radios along with everything it takes to make them work to give away. These radios allow you to contact people all over the world. We have friends in southern Alabama, Texas, and even England. Mike and Bennie here have been to Texas and England. We have a weather station in Atlanta and warn you of incoming storms. It's not perfect but it is better than nothing."
"I think we might be interested in one of your radios. How do you govern yourselves?"
Jim said, "We elect our leaders. Mike's father is our current director. Jack and the council lead us but are always subject to the community. Their function is more as coordinators than rulers. Al, we would like to meet more of your people. Perhaps tomorrow, you could get together a group to come talk with us. We aren't in a hurry and can remain here, unless there's another place you would prefer we go."
"No, here is fine. I will do that. I will go talk to my people. See you tomorrow."
The three of us decided not to set out sentries but to keep close and run an internal guard which meant we slept on an alert status. That was not as restful but, until we knew more, we would be careful. Al's group had some good scouts.
We got through the night without alarm. As we were starting breakfast the next morning, we saw movement in the woods. We saw a number of forms but only five came forward. Al was one of them. He came up to Jim and said, "We would like to talk."
Jim answered, "Fine. We're getting ready to eat breakfast. Would you join us?"
They looked a little shocked at the offer but nodded. Al and one other man sat with Jim and his wives. The other three joined Bennie and me and our wives. We were all close together. I'm not sure that Al and his buddies knew that the wives were as dangerous as the men. I know I wouldn't want to go hand to hand with my sister, Janice, nor my wife.
"Al," started Jim, "tell us about your people."
"We came here about ten or fifteen years ago. There were twenty and most were sick or starving. We had come down from Memphis where we had lived until forced out by a larger group. We wandered a while before finding an area where we could grow crops and not have to be looking over our shoulders all the time. There were others in our group but they stayed as slaves of the Trojans."
"Where were the Trojans from?"
"All I know is that they came out of the west. We don't know if they were fleeing another group or if they were looking for a better territory, They never said and we never asked.
"We call our community, Irondale, one of the towns close to here. There are two other groups not far from us, Fultondale and Hoover. Hoover people were there before we came. Fultondale was settled after us but we don't where they came from. They aren't very friendly. We consider the Hooverites to be allies."
I remembered that Irondale was a bit south of I-20 while Hoover was even further south. Fultondale, on the other hand, was in our line of travel or barely north. I was concerned.
We continued to talk with Al. I believe Jim was looking for better common ground. We weren't conquerors just passing through. Jim emphasized that as he and Al talked. The other four ate breakfast greedily which suggested to me that their food problems were not solved yet even after ten or fifteen years. I also noticed no mention of women nor were any in sight.
Jen stood up and said quietly to me, "It's time George and I took our nap. Call me if you need me, Mike."
"Okay, Jen. Rest well."
"One of the men with Al asked me, "Is she your woman?"
"She is my wife and George is our son. She still tires easily." Janice looked up for a second at that since it wasn't true. She began to look around more at the appraising looks from Al's companions. Bennie was more circumspect but was noticing the looks our women drew from the Irondale men. He gave me a hand signal for "Alert." I nodded.
I now began to wonder what was going on. Al had a pistol but his men only had knives. What about rifles? I wondered about the others still in the woods. Janice got up and went around to Oliver and Anna and to Roy and Melody. The three of them went into the other wagon. Melody came out after a moment and went to the wagon with Jen and George. She came out a moment later and called to Mary and Louise to give her a hand. The two of them looked at Jim who nodded. He realized that something was going on with the women. He continued to talk to Al asking how many people were in Irondale.
Al said, "Not enough. We don't have enough women. Maybe, we'll take yours."
Jim said, "Al, that wouldn't be a good idea. Preservation is based upon free choice and our wives might not want to go with you and leave us."
"If you're dead, they won't have a choice." He said, "We have decided to take over your group and then we'll go to Preservation and take over there. We have you surrounded. You would be smart to surrender. We might even let you live."
Jim was still calm as he said, "I just see the five of you and there's six of us including Ollie. I think it would be difficult to control the situation."
Al raised his voice, "Okay, Guys, come on out and show 'em they're outnumbered." Ten or fifteen men came out of the trees and moved into position. There were no rifles evident. They all had pistols of different types. I knew our ladies were ready for a fight. Janice, in particular, did not like men staring at her body. I was her brother and I knew she was a very attractive woman with an excellent figure. I also knew to be circumspect from an early age when looking at her.
Al said, "Men, why don't you go to the wagons and help the women come out here. They're some fine looking fillies." Al would be sorry for that statement if he survived. Two men went to each wagon and pulled aside the curtain. Boom! Boom! The shotguns were deadly at that close range. Bennie and I dropped down pulling our pistols and shooting. Rifle shots came from the wagons and Al's men dropped. Quickly, there was just Al and one other who dropped their pistols and raised their hands in surrender. Bennie, Ollie, and I checked the rest for weapons making sure they were dead and disarmed. The two left were looking scared. When Janice came out of the wagon, their fear level went up higher. She was mad and that meant someone would be hurt. She had a pistol in each hand as she walked toward Al. He looked at her face and started to beg, "No, we didn't mean to hurt you. We just don't have any women. They all ran off." Janice came close and looked over at Al's companion. He made the mistake of leering at her at that moment. Her left hand tensed and she gut shot him low. He fell to the ground groaning in pain. Al started to stammer.
Janice interrupted him with, "You were going to make me a widow and then take me for your woman. As you can see, that was a mistake. Your men are all dead." She looked at the man laying on the ground groaning in pain. "Or dying. How many more men do you have? We are they? Where is your main camp?"
"I can't tell you that. They'll kill me if I tell."
"If you don't, they won't get the chance. But you'll die slowly if I do it to you." She holstered her pistols and snapped the covers down on her holsters. She pulled a large, sharp knife from the scabbard at her back and waved it in the vicinity of his crotch. Al's eyes got even bigger if possible. "I can teach you how to sing soprano, if you don't talk and talk now." Janice said sweetly and menacingly. I think Al believed her. I know I would.
"There's only five more men at our camp. We came in here five days ago from the northeast. We heard of the Trojans in Memphis from the Fultondale people who fought us off. We only had three women to serve us."
That last statement may have been true but it wasn't clever when standing in front of a Janice who was already mad. "Serve you! I'll serve you! I'll carve you up like a turkey!"
Al went to his knees begging to live and not be hurt. His buddy picked that moment to gasp his last. Al looked down at the gaping wound which was leaking intestines. Al grabbed Janice' hand and knife and pulled the blade across his throat falling back dying with blood spouting from the wound. He died quickly.
"Well, that's ended. Now, do we leave or do we get the rest of them?" Janice asked. She knelt down and wiped the blade on Al's pants. My sister could be a bit bloodthirsty at times.
Jim said, "We don't know where the remnants of them are located since Al killed himself. I think we need to pack and go. I hope he Fultondale people are better folk."
Everyone looked around and nodded. We packed quickly and rolled out. We left the Irondale men where they lay. The animals would feed well.
We followed the track of I-20 into Birmingham which had noticeable damage. Some of it was from fire and some from wind. One area looked as if a tornado had plowed through it within the last two years. We moved north on I-65 when we came to it. We didn't go far just to Forty-first Avenue North and cut west to Coalburg Road following it north to the entrance ramp roads for US 78. We saw no one which suited us all. We started northwest on US 78 which was an interstate type highway. That meant gentle slopes and wide medians though, after twenty plus years of no maintenance, it was starting to lose its openness.
We traveled until almost dark before stopping to put some distance between ourselves and Birmingham. We called in that night and explained what happened. Dad congratulated all of us on protecting ourselves and not having any of us hurt. No tears were spilled for the Irondale folk. They chose their fate.