Getting By
Chapter 17

Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B

The next three days were a madhouse. I thought it had been hectic getting the original group settled, and almost as bad when the Lake Mead group arrived, but the logistics of making room for the people, supplies and equipment that came back with Gunny were horrendous. Add to that preparation for the Thanksgiving celebration, and if I hadn't had some excellent help I would have been bald before the party started.

General Lee took over the military aspects of the community, for which I was very grateful, but there were still a million little details that needed my attention. Much of it, I was able to delegate to Amanda. Some got passed down to Lieutenant Russell and her SeaBees. Lt. Commander Carson took charge of the training schedule, but kept Garcia, Chief O'Donnell, and the army special ops guys for instructors.

Even with more people to delegate to, a virtual storm of activity swirled around me, with questions coming from all directions.

The tractor-trailer rigs couldn't make it up the trail into the valley so we had to find ways to get their loads up the trail without them. The construction equipment came up under its own power, and some of the other stuff we loaded onto 6x6's to haul up in smaller loads. The tanker full of diesel was a bigger problem. We finally decided to leave it on the desert floor and use it to refill barrels and a smaller, 6x6 tanker truck until it was empty, and then haul it off somewhere out of the way.

Finally, on the morning of the third day, with most of the plans for housing everyone sorted out, and everyone assigned something to do, I began to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. Using a trick I had developed while running a Silicon Valley startup, I took the opportunity to review the issues that had come up and the responses I had made to them. Most passed muster, but when I got to defense, I realized I had forgotten one very important item in the summary of our assets that I had handed over to our new General: I had forgotten our treaty with the Native American tribes.

I found General Lee holding an impromptu conference near the trailhead with Lt. Russell and Captain Guzman.

"Here he is now. Let's run it by him and see what he thinks," the General said as I approached.

"About what?"

"About defense planning. We've already gone over the berm system that Lt. Russell and her people are going to build to provide some protection from mortars and artillery that get lobbed over the rim of the valley," he said, "and we've already discussed how situating our SAMs to cover the northern approach should give us enough air cover, since they'll have to come from that direction if they expect to hit anything in the valley and not just expend their munitions on its walls..."

"Yes, General, and I appreciate that you understand how busy I am, but it's not necessary to replay those discussions. What's on your mind today?"

"Well, sir, against a small force, we have nothing to worry about," he showed me a USGS topo map that detailed our little mountain range with our valley and the one where the cattle grazed situated along its western side, and pointed with his finger to make his points. "We can cover the four known accesses with relative ease, but there are at least five other points, all along the northern and western slopes of the mountains, that a determined and somewhat trained force could use to get into this or the upper valley. Now, we can discourage them and slow them down some with snipers up in the higher peaks to the east, but if they come in under cover of an attack at any one of the trails, it could be very hard to stop them."

"That's true, and one of the major reasons I'm glad you're here. What do you propose to do about it?"

"In reality, sir, about the only thing we can do, if they get a substantial force over the rim, is to fight a rearguard action as we withdraw to the mine. Once in there, with food and water, we can hold out for quite a while."

"Quite a while?" I raised an eyebrow. "General, this is the Mojave Desert. Whoever holds these two valleys holds our water and our electricity. If we retreat into that mine and try to hold out against a siege, we'll be lucky to last a week. I need you to come up with a strategy for defense that allows us to ultimately defeat anyone who invades. If this location is not suited to such a plan, then either make it suitable or find another place with sufficient food and water, and preferably, electricity. That reminds me, though; I forgot one very important detail when I gave you an inventory of our assets. We have an agreement with the Native American tribes who occupy the area around the Colorado River. We will train them and supply them with light weapons, and, if necessary, come to their defense when needed. In return, they will act as our eyes and ears in the desert, as well as being a mobile force that you can call on when needed."

"Hmm. That will help with early warning, but in the end, I don't know if it helps with defense. Maybe we can use them to harass the enemy's flanks. Let me think about it some and I'll get back to you."

"All right. You have training in such matters that I don't, so I'll leave it to you."

"Oh, there is one other thing," Lee said.


"We want to block off the tunnels to the lower entrance of the mine. We'll put our fire control center in the good tunnel and block the one with the cave-in. We can set up a couple of Metal Storms to guard that entrance, and rig wiring for radio antennae so that we can communicate from there. We'll use those sound-powered phones for internal communication."

"Wouldn't it be better to use one of the other tunnels? That one's a possible escape route."

"Precisely why I want to use it. We'll have doors at both ends of the section we use, but by having it there, we can grab the gear and run either way if the mine is invaded. If we need it for an escape route for everyone else, we just open both doors, and it's a tunnel again."

"Should work," I nodded.

Amanda fell in beside me as I headed back toward the house.

"Do we really need all this military hardware?" she griped. "We've got trucks and machinery running out our ears, and enough weaponry to start our own World War. What the hell was Garcia thinking?"

"I know what you mean, Amanda. He did get a little carried away. I suppose it's understandable, given who he is and our proximity to four major military bases. I'm just glad he didn't go over to Edwards and bring back a space shuttle or something!"

My second in command laughed at the thought and answered, "Yeah, well, maybe you or I should take the next shopping trip out. What the hell are we going to do with all these trucks?"

"That one I have an answer for: The SeaBees are going to build a system of earthworks going around and criss-crossing the valley so that if anyone starts lobbing high explosive over the rim, the damage from the blasts and the shrapnel will be localized. They'll drain the fuel from the trucks' tanks, remove anything we might need for spare parts, and bury the rest under several tons of sand as part of the defense system. It'll save having to move so much dirt."

"Whoa, hold on there! We're going to need every inch of soil on this valley's floor to grow food. How are we going to do that if it's all piled up in these berms?"

"They'll scrape off the topsoil and set it aside. Then they'll use the dump truck to haul sand from the desert for the bulk of the berms. Once the berms are built, they'll put the soil in terraces along the sides and top so that we can farm the berms, too. That should minimize the impact on our growing capability. If we need more room than that, or when we do, we'll have to see what we can do about acquiring some farm land or making a deal with someone who has already done so."

"Okay, I guess," she replied skeptically.

"It's not perfect, Amanda. Remember, our original purpose in coming here was to give us a place to get started, and hopefully start growing our population before we have too many bad guys breathing down our necks. Once we've reached a certain level of population, we'll outgrow this valley and have to spread out. We'll have to plan our expansion so that we acquire what we need as we grow, and so we can protect our people, wherever they are. Right now, our main concern is survival for the next couple of years. We were pretty lucky to have this place to come to, but it also presents challenges we'll have to face when we get ready to expand. I expect to offset some of those challenges by making us the toughest bastards around, so that people don't fuck with us very often. It's going to take luck and careful thought to make this work, but we've already had quite a bit of luck, and if we stay focused on our goal, we can see it through."

"You're right. I just ... Hell, I don't know what's wrong with me these days. I'm irritable. I'm jumping at shadows. It's like I'm lost in the woods and I never know what's behind the next tree."

I stopped and wrapped my good arm around her, gently stroking her hair.

"It's understandable," I said softly. "We each feel the events of a few weeks ago in different ways. I suspect that, even though you didn't lose anyone who was really close to you, you miss the familiarity of that world. This is about as different as you can get. Not only have you gone from being the savvy urbanite, who knew where everything you needed was and could get it by flashing a little plastic, to being a desert dweller trying to convince a motley collection of other people how lucky they are to have survived. You have also had to switch genders in the bedroom, on the rare occasion when you can even get into an actual bedroom, and have had the misfortune to depend on me for what relationship you can have. It's no wonder you're feeling a little lost."

Amanda's petite body shook and trembled as I held her, and I realized that, for the first time since I had known her, she was crying. I steered her into a small equipment shed that was, at the moment, unoccupied.

"I-I ... You're probably right," she sniffled. "I think of myself as this strong, self-sufficient woman, and most of the time I am. Here, though, I am so out of my depth it's laughable. I make decisions every day that affect the lives of much of the remaining population of Earth, and half the time, I feel like I'm faking it. I just don't know this world!"

I kissed her forehead as she launched into another fit of sobbing.

"You are doing exactly what you need to do, Amanda. It may be unfamiliar to you, but you have a good head on your shoulders, and you're paying attention. Hell, you've kept me from making some huge mistakes, not to mention having held everyone together while I went around pretending that I knew what I was doing. This ain't nobody's comfort zone, honey, but you're doing a damned sight better at adapting than most. Just hang in there, Amanda. You're learning fast, and things will begin to settle down before long. I don't expect that we'll add too many more people through spring, and we aren't going to be moving about too much in the summer, so we should be able to get settled in by the time the hot weather really gets going, then we'll see how well everyone's paying attention to Grey Eagle's lessons."

"I-I guess you're right, but except for that one night, you go around looking like you're right at home, and I don't know how you do it!"

"I have a slight advantage in having some experience in the desert and the mentorship of Grey Eagle, but I learned a long time ago that leaders don't have to know everything. You surround yourself with good people and turn them loose to come up with their own solutions. I think it's important that people see me as competent and confident, but that doesn't mean I always am. Hell, I'd never fired a gun at another person until a few weeks ago. Now I wake up at night seeing the faces of the seven people I've killed since the Sickness, and I want to puke. Seven people! Have I become the barbarian that Mondale labeled me, in spite of my dreams of preserving civilization? Thing is, there will likely be more before that dream is realized. I don't look forward to it, but I'll do what it takes to get us there, and so will you."

Amanda held on to me for several more minutes, her entire body wracked with sobs. I felt like a helpless fool just holding her, but there was nothing else I could do. I remembered how I felt that night I had my own meltdown, and just tried to provide as much comfort for her as I could. After a while, the crying slowed, and she struggled to bring it under control.

Finally, she stepped away from me, drying her eyes and asking, just like Melinda used to do, "How do I look?"

I had to choke back my own emotions at the memory, but, just as I had with Melinda, no matter how she looked, I answered heartily, "You look fabulous, dahling!"

"Yeah, right!" She grumped, but smiled, and I realized, guiltily, that she was rapidly beginning to occupy places in my heart that had long been reserved for Melinda.

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