Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B
It took the rest of the day and a stop at a truck stop to refill the tanks, but by nightfall, we were in the San Joaquin Valley, negotiating back roads and occasionally cutting across pastures or orchards. At the rest stop just south of the I-5 & I-580 junction, I stopped to give Crystal a chance to clean up and change clothes.
Cora and I waited by the truck to give her privacy, but tore into the ladies' room when we heard her scream. 9mm in hand, M16 slung over my shoulder, I burst in, ready to shoot somebody.
"Wait! Wait, Gavin!" Crystal yelled at me trying to use her body to shield a gaunt-looking woman who cowered in the corner. "She just startled me. It's okay."
The woman appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties, and she, too, had barely survived the sickness. Her clothes were fairly fresh, so she must have changed them recently.
"We were trying to get to my sister's house east of Barstow," the woman sobbed, "but we had to stop to use the bathroom. By the time I got back to the car, Ted was too sick to drive, and I couldn't move him from behind the wheel! I don't know how long I sat there, out of my head with fever, before I realized he was dead, along with everyone else out there, so I got my clothes and I've been living here for the last three or four days."
"Why didn't you come out when you heard the truck?" I asked.
"Would you?" She replied. "I had no idea who was driving it, but I knew damned good and well that there wasn't going to be any law around to protect me, so I stayed hidden, hoping to get a clue as to whether I could trust you or not. When the young lady came in here alone, I figured it was safe enough to approach her."
"My name's Gavin Thompson," I said, "and this is Crystal."
From behind me, Cora, too, introduced herself.
"I'm Ruth Goldman," the woman responded, holding out her hand. "Is everybody really dead?"
"All over the world, apparently," I told her. "According to the notice that's playing on all the TV channels, they figure this was a bio-weapon that terrorists released, only they didn't count on it propagating around the world so fast. Seems it hopped flights to pretty much every place on Earth before the first deaths occurred, including the Middle East. Certain people, like us, seem capable of developing immunity to it, but not very many."
"I'm sorry to ask, but you wouldn't happen to have any food, would you? I've been living on toothpaste and a bag of Cheetos..."
"Sure, Ruth," I told her, and then raised an eyebrow in Crystal's direction.
I told you she was smart - she nodded her assent to let Ruth come with us. Truth be told, I think she had been waiting for me to ask. Cora, too, caught on and gave silent assent.
"Look, we're going to try to find a place that will be safe for us for awhile, and try to start over," I told her. "You're welcome to come along..."
"Where are you going?" She asked.
"I'm sorry, but until we get there, I can't afford to tell anyone else. If any of you should decide you don't want to be with me, I don't want it to come down to a choice of killing you to protect the rest, or letting the secret out. You three may be the mothers of the New Earth, and killing you is not an option."
"What do you mea... ? Oh! Well! That certainly puts things in a different perspective, doesn't it?"
Crystal looked puzzled, and I guess, despite her brainpower she was too young for the repopulation of Earth to have become a major personal concern, as yet.
"It's like this, Crystal," I told her, "There are very few people left on Earth. We are social creatures, not accustomed to living alone, so in order to survive as a race, we must make more people as quickly as possible. That means we need every woman we can find to start trying to get pregnant."
"And you, no doubt," Ruth said, sarcastically, "will be the Father of the new race."
"I won't lie," I shrugged. "I would like to leave a child or two or three behind before I die, but my ego aside, I know enough about genetics to know that me fathering a whole race is not feasible. I remember enough of my history to know the dangers of inbreeding. We also need to recruit other men, and even then, genetically, it could be touch and go. I see no reason why pairing needs to be done any differently than it has throughout human history. If I appeal to you, then fine, maybe we'll make babies, but if I don't, and there are other candidates, then make your own choice. As a matter of genetics, the more fathers you women find to give you babies, the better off we'll be, so monogamy might not be the best thing for a while. The only sin is staying celibate. Women, I'm sorry to say, will have to become baby factories for a while."
"That's pretty harsh!" Ruth said, then her tone softened, "but I guess the world has just become a much harsher place, hasn't it?"
"It has. Unfortunately, there are some who haven't yet realized the import of what's happened, or don't care..."
"Yeah, like that guy who only wanted to steal jewelry from the dead," Crystal put in.
"Just like him, or worse. The point is, if you want to survive and have a chance at resurrecting civilization, then we need to find as many others like ourselves as we can, and try to make an enclave somewhere where we can be relatively undisturbed for a while."
"What do you mean 'like ourselves?'?"
"I mean people who are serious about giving the human race a new start, and not just living off the leftovers of the old society until they run out. I mean people who are willing to work to see that the things we have learned over the last few centuries don't get lost in a new dark age and a descent to barbarism."
Ruth nodded curtly, "Well, if you don't intend to rape me or one of these ladies, let's get on the road."
"I wouldn't mind having consensual sex with you, Ruth. You're quite an attractive lady, as is Cora, but I'm not a rapist. Crystal will be attractive, also, in a few years, but until her body matures, it's too risky for her to be having sex. Her body may not be able survive giving birth."
"Oh, my mom put me on the pill..." Crystal interjected.
Cora raised an eyebrow in her direction. "And how many of them did you bring with you? Where will you get refills? He's right sweetie. The days are past when you can afford to have sex for fun, unless you're really good at the old 'rhythm and blues' method."
"Exactly my point, dear. If you haven't heard of it, you don't know how to do it, so don't mess around with boys for a couple of years, okay?"
With that, Ruth picked up a suitcase from one of the stalls and marched toward the door. A noise from outside caused my arm to shoot out and hold her back. Holding a finger to my lips, I motioned them to wait for me, and eased around the corner to where I could see the truck.
A pair of boots was just disappearing upward on the other side of the cab as I peeked around the corner. I didn't expect any real organized resistance this early, but I scanned the surrounding area before ducking back behind the building. A quick circuit of the restrooms brought me out near the rear of the truck. I slipped around the back of the truck, intending to get the drop on whoever had climbed into the cab. To my chagrin, instead, I found myself staring down the twin bores of a stubby, camouflaged shotgun.
The M-16 was still pointed skyward and there was no way I was going to reach my sidearm in time to make any difference.
"Take it easy, mister," the guy behind the shotgun, dressed in desert camouflage said. There was a rucksack on the ground at his feet, but he didn't look like he had come very far. "I just need something to eat. Let me grab a bite or two and I'll be on my way."
"You won't find much in the cab but a can or two of peaches," I told him, raising my hands. Since he didn't seem inclined to shoot me out of hand, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try to build some good will. "There's more in the bed of the truck."
He backed me up with a gesture of the shotgun and used his left hand to swing himself up to where he could look over the tailgate. A low whistle came as he saw the piles and boxes that nearly filled the bed.
"What are you planning to do with all that stuff?" He asked in wonder.
"If I survive the next few minutes, " I told him, "I'm going to collect as many people as I can who want to see if we can do something about rebuilding, and find a place to hole up until we're strong enough to do that."
He eyed me speculatively for a long moment, and then asked, "Got room for one more?"
"Sure do. What branch of the service were you in?"
"United States Marine Corps, Gunnery Sergeant, Recon. Name's Garcia, Ramon Garcia."
"You got combat experience?" I asked.
"Yeah," he answered. "More than my share I reckon. Two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan."
"Well, then, maybe I ought to turn this show over to you," I said, thinking hard. "I did a few years in the Navy, but never saw combat."
Garcia shook his head. "I'm not much for leading, sir, but I know how leaders think. While I was doing what everybody else did - trying to run away from the inevitable, you figured out something else. You got it organized, and didn't hesitate to do what needed doing to make it work. If it's all the same to you, and you'll have me, I'll handle any fighting that comes up while you keep doing what you're doing. Looks like you've got the right idea."
"If we're going to hook up, you'll have to teach the rest of us about fighting. Basic weapons first, as we travel, then, when we get to our destination, more rigorous training, especially hand to hand. You up for that?"
He grinned widely. "Did a stint as a DI at Parris Island. I think I can handle it."
"All right, get your kit and climb in. Cab's full, I'm afraid, but after you've inventoried what's in the bed and equipped yourself as you see fit, you can probably make yourself comfortable back there."
"And Gunny..." I said, as he followed the rucksack up over the tailgate.
"If you think of anything else we need, after the inventory, make a list and we'll fill it in on the way."
"Where we headed?"
"Need to know, Gunny."
Garcia just nodded. Everyone who had ever been in the service knew that information was doled out on a 'need to know' basis. It was a security measure, but it had led to some Class A fuck-ups over the years as the 'need to know' invariably preceded the actual dissemination of the intel, often in some very hostile situations. I would have to determine how far I could trust this Marine quickly, in case something happened to me.
I walked back to the restrooms and took a few minutes to fill the ladies in on the new development before leading them back to the truck.
"Hey Garcia, why don't you hop down for a sec and meet the rest of our little band."
He had already found the weapons and equipped himself with a sidearm and knife and his pockets bulged with ammo for the shotgun. He held the shotgun casually under his arm and extended his hand, first to Ruth, then to Cora, then to Crystal.
"Ramon Garcia, meet Ruth Goldman, Corazon Mendoza, and Crystal Adams."
I watched his face carefully, and while he had a healthy appreciation for a good-looking woman, there was no hunger in his gaze, and Crystal, to him, was a child. A good start. Maybe good enough.
"You three get yourselves sorted out in the cab," I told the women, deciding that what I had learned about the Marine would have to suffice. "I want to have a word with Mr. Garcia."
I walked the Gunny back to the tailgate, noting with some surprise that he had created a nice little machine gun nest there with the 7.62mm I had taken from the Reserve depot.
I nodded my approval and asked, "Okay, what have I forgotten."
"I haven't had a chance to do a thorough inventory," he said, without hesitation, "but I didn't see any tools. We're going to need them, especially axes, saws, and hammers, unless I miss my guess. Eventually, we'll probably need stuff for a smithy, and I'm guessing that before too long we'll need horses, so saddles, bridles, boots, that sort of thing."
I nodded as he ticked off each item on his fingers. I should have thought of that stuff, but then, that was why I double-checked myself, and why I had always preferred to have executives and managers who tended to disagree with me. No one is infallible, and only those who disagree with you can correct your errors.
"All right, Gunny," I told him, "until further notice, you're my number two. We need to find a place in the desert where a fair sized group of people can survive for several years. That's why I'm heading south."
"Why the desert?" he asked. "Why not the mountains, or a city - hell, even a small town?"
"If I've just survived the worst disaster to hit humankind since prehistoric times, and I'd rather take from others than do things for myself, where would I go?"
"Cities, first, then towns, then probably, farms. I'd probably want a place I could fortify, and I'd collect others like myself, so hills and mountains are my hideout. I'd avoid the desert, because I wouldn't like the heat and I wouldn't expect to find anyone there. Okay, so desert it is, but me, I'm trained for it. What about you and these women?"
"I've done my time in the desert, Gunny. I might even be able to teach you a thing or two. As for the women, they'll be dependent on us for a while, but they'll learn. They're smart."
"If you say so. Hey, my car's stuck in that mess on the freeway about a mile and a half south. Think we can stop and let me pick up a few things?"
"Yeah, I was going to top off the tanks at Westley, so you just sing out when we get close. But that brings up a thought - do we keep moving or try to get some rest tonight, and start out in the morning?"
"I'd say use the night. There's at least two of us to take turns driving. If you need a break, just let me know and I'll take over."