Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B
The party from Silicon Valley had come into the San Joaquin Valley along much the same route that Cora, Crystal and I had followed when we first headed for the desert, following the old I-580 over the Altamont pass before heading south and east. Going back, we headed west by northwest and hit old state route 198 just west of what was left of Coalinga.
We camped in the valley outside Coalinga and got an early start the next morning. The roads we were using, unlike the old freeways, didn't have many hulks of cars on them. Even though everyone was accustomed to seeing the rusting vehicles and their skeletal passengers, it made for faster travel if you could actually use the roadway. Granted, vegetation, including some saplings, was beginning to take root in the asphalt, widening small cracks into larger ones, but this was no real problem for the trucks as yet. In a few years, if left untended, the roads would be indistinguishable from the land around them unless you were standing on the remaining chunks of asphalt.
By the time we found the road we wanted, it was already headed up a canyon into the coastal range. There were signs of recent activity in the area, so I kept scouting parties out well ahead, up on the ridges to either side, and along our back trail.
The riders on point kept catching glimpses of movement, but couldn't see anything definitive. It was the scouting parties on the ridges that warned of the ambush. A group of thirty-seven people who seemed at home in these hills had barricaded themselves behind tree trunks that they had placed across the road in a narrow defile. They also had people up the slopes on the sides of the canyon.
It was a good place for an ambush, but they hadn't counted on Phoenicians coming their way. According to the trails our scouts picked up, someone had scouted our camp the night before, then had gone off somewhere to the north on horseback. That same horse was now with the group that was waiting to ambush us.
Leaving their horses tethered, my outriders took up positions further up slope from the ambushers, covering both those on the slopes and those behind the barrier. The point patrol fell back into the main body of our convoy. The six-by-six with the snowplow mounted on the front took the lead as we headed up the narrow canyon.
I wasn't too worried. According to the scouts, other than a sidearm or two, the other group seemed to be armed primarily with crossbows. Don't get me wrong, a crossbow can kill as quickly as a firearm, but its range and accuracy were nowhere near those of our M16s. That was probably why we were able to get people above them on the sides of the canyon. Their crossbowmen would have to stay close enough to the roadway to be reasonably sure of a decent shot.
As we approached the barricade, a single shot, that sounded like it was from a handgun, spanged off the blade of the snowplow and a male voice echoed through the canyon.
"That's far enough. If you get out of the trucks and walk back down the canyon, we'll let you live. We've got you surrounded and if you try to fight, you'll die."
"Well," I told him, keeping the roan I was riding dancing, as if the shot had made it nervous. "I can see that you've got us in a tough position here, but we've kinda grown fond of these trucks, and we're just not too keen on giving them up."
"No skin off my nose!" came the reply, "We can take 'em the hard way, or the easy way, but take 'em we will, so make up your mind. Do we just take the trucks or do we take your lives, too?"
"I have a counter offer for you," I shouted. "You move those logs and stand aside, and you'll live to ambush somebody else. Don't, and we'll move the logs and your bodies along with them."
I triggered the mic to my walkie-talkie and said, "Flankers, dust 'em a little with your M-16s, but don't kill anybody yet. Sweep those logs with the .50 caliber."
With short, three round bursts, the M16s in the hills stitched the road and the hillsides alongside the ambushers, showing them exactly how exposed and outgunned they were. Just for grins, the .50 caliber on the snowplow chewed splinters off the logs in the barricade.
"Now," I continued, as the firing stopped and the echoes ran away down the canyon, "you folks move those logs and stand aside, hands in the air, while we pass through, and you'll live."
There was no reply except for the sound of bodies moving quickly and furtively through the undergrowth.
"They're gone, Gav," one of the scouts told me over the walkie-talkie. "Disappeared like smoke in the brush."
"Okay, keep your eyes peeled. If you see any of them, don't wait for instructions. Shoot."
It didn't take long to push the logs aside and make our way through. The point patrol ranged out ahead again and the riders on the ridges continued their patrols all the way down the western slope of the mountains. Whoever had tried to ambush us was good in the brush and the hills. We could tell they were shadowing us, but never got a clear shot at them. Of necessity, they backed off when we got down into more open country, where it would be easier to spot and perhaps shoot them.
We camped again that night in Peachtree Valley, a little south of the Pinnacles. Our sentries heard furtive movement in the night, and some really bad imitations of wild bird calls, but no one attacked or showed enough of themselves for us to waste ammo on.
Instead of going all the way west to the Salinas Valley, we turned north on old State Highway 25 and traveled up the Peachtree Valley, skirting Hollister on the east before joining old US 101 just south of Gilroy.
We picked up some of the wild garlic that still grew in the fields around Gilroy as we passed through, thinking it would be a nice addition to our diet if we could get it to grow closer to home.
Our third camp was just north of the remains of Morgan Hill. Again, our followers scouted the camp, but apparently didn't find an opening they liked. Firearms, especially automatics, can be a tremendous deterrent to people whose primary weapons are crossbows. The alertness of our sentries, as well as the fact that they didn't expose themselves enough to be taken from the dark must have made the prospect of attacking us even more daunting.
We were up early the following morning and by making a hard push alongside US 101 got to Simmons' fortified enclosure in Sunnyvale by late afternoon, in spite of the traffic jam frozen in time on the freeway.
The people who remained at Moffett were happy to see us, and Simmons was somewhat mollified by the praise he received for bringing us back and getting us to take them in. They were eager to show us what they had collected, but it had been a long trip and we decided to set up camp and get a good night's sleep before we took the tour.
We camped on the runway at Moffett for the night, and posted sentries. Theoretically, we were in friendly territory, but nothing was final yet, and we weren't letting our guard down.
In the morning, we got down to business. We were up early, but for once, Simmons and his crowd were up before we were, like kids on Christmas morning.
"Okay, folks," I told Simmons and his entourage when they came to greet us, "let's see what you've got."
"Well, since it's closer, why don't we start over here?" He indicated the old dirigible hangar that had been built when Moffett was part of the Navy's Lighter Than Air program.
After dirigibles proved too slow and cumbersome to be practical, the Navy had begun using Moffett for other purposes. Some years before the Sickness, it had been turned over to NASA and had become NASA Ames Research Center. Simmons' people had taken the base, the Lockheed facility next door, and Onizuka Air Force Station - a facility used by the Air Force for monitoring satellites. They had had no clear purpose in mind, other than to preserve the technology that they could collect within their guarded perimeter. Much of it didn't need collecting, since NASA and Lockheed, not to mention the Air Force, had their own share of technology already within the perimeter. I could also see a few tarp covered shapes on the apron that had to be aircraft of various sizes.
We entered the dirigible hangar by a pedestrian door, and I expected to see a vast hangar floor with perhaps a few pieces of equipment scattered about and rusting. What I actually saw was row after row of plastic and tarpaulin covered machinery - so much of it that, except for narrow aisles between blocks and stacks of machinery, the entire floor of the enormous hangar was covered to a height of about fifteen feet. I walked down aisle after aisle, lifting the edges of tarps to see what was underneath. What was underneath was practically every machine ever used in the making of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, batteries, solar cells, and God knows what else. There was equipment for setting up clean rooms, including forced air systems, HEPA filters, and on and on, until my head was spinning with the possibilities.
We left that hangar and walked across the abandoned runways to another, where we found acres of computer equipment, some of it set up to run, the rest waiting on pallets and warehouse shelving. I could see where they had tried to keep some of the equipment going with gas-powered generators, but they had run out of the restorative compounds that kept the gasoline viable some years back, and their generators had eventually given out.
In a third hangar, they had collected enough machinery to reconstruct an automobile assembly line. This was taken from the NUMI plant in Fremont where GM conducted its grand cooperative venture with a Japanese auto manufacturer.
There was more in other buildings, and indeed, the few aircraft that had been kept on the base by NASA had also been preserved, including the jet owned by the founders of Google, who had finagled permission to use the facility in exchange for allowing NASA to put weather monitoring equipment on their plane. The offices of the NASA Ames Research Center were still pretty much intact, though Simmons and his people had taken precautions toward the preservation of files and equipment. The Lockheed Missiles and Space Systems facility was a ghost town, but the equipment, in the light of our lanterns, looked as though it merely awaited the flip of a switch. Whatever else they had done or not done, these people had accomplished what they set out to do - they had preserved the technology. I didn't need to discuss it with Amanda. Even without my knowledge of this stuff, she could tell that this equipment had been well preserved.
"Why don't we show these good people what we've brought for them, Gavin?" she asked, taking my arm and leading me aside.
I smiled, gave her a quick kiss, then held up a cautionary finger and turned back to our hosts.
"Would you like to see more?" Simmons asked hopefully.
"That won't be necessary," I answered, and before his doubts could overtake him, I continued. "You folks have done an excellent job of preserving the machinery that was used to produce our former level of technology, and I'm ready to proceed with our arrangement. Before we finalize the agreement however, I want to be sure all of you understand just what we'll be asking of you, and what we'll be providing as our part of the bargain."
"That won't be necessary," Simmons said, "I mean, everybody knows about Phoenicians, right?"
"Maybe not everything. We will hand out a set of rules. These are, until we can come up with a more permanent form of government, our laws. Each of you must agree to abide by those rules. If a majority of you agree, as I think you will, then we will continue. Those who don't feel that they can agree must then leave. I know that sounds harsh but punishment for disobeying the rules is harsher, as you will see."
There were now four pages to our rules, thanks to having to cover such things as property ownership, money, etc., and it took a while to pass them out and give everyone a chance to read them.
"Fifteen?" someone asked. "You expect my daughter to start having babies at fifteen?"
"Yes," I told her. "We will not force partners on her, but we are still trying to re-populate the Earth, so, at the age of fifteen, if she so chooses, she may marry and have children."
"I won't allow it!" the woman cried.
Rather than argue with her, I walked over and took the papers from her hand. "That is your choice to make, ma'am. Since I'm not hearing other objections to these rules, that puts you in the minority. You may wait and see if this agreement becomes official, but when it does, I will expect you to leave with only what you can carry for your survival."
"What? But this is my home! What will we do out there?"
"That, too, is up to you, ma'am. Your choice is simple: Agree to abide by our rules and become one of us, or leave." I took the sheet of rules and turned my back.
I had not gone two steps before Amanda plucked the papers from my hand and said, "Let me talk with her for a moment, dear."