Ever and Always
Chapter 43: Starting back up - August 2026

Copyright© 2015 by Banadin

The next year flew by for Rick and Marsha. During that time the Valley had expanded to one-hundred and seventy-five thousand residents. That first year took a horrible toll on the outside survivors.

The population of Earth according to the best estimates went from seventy five million during that first year to less than a million worldwide.

This was due to the last of the influenza. No matter how remote a village was there was some communication with the outside world. When a person from the village visited the outside there was a high probability they were bringing the disease back with them. This ranged from the Inuit's of the Arctic Circle, to the Indians of the Amazon, to the Pygmies of Africa.

Then there was the fact that the survivors everywhere, but the Valley didn't have access to the Live pharmaceutical. So the remaining population went from robust health to that of pre-Live citizens.

The recovery program worked better than they ever hoped. Once cold weather set in the drones could spot smoke. The crew would then circle in blaring an alarm to alert the residents they were above them.

A canister would be dropped with a bright streamer. It would contain a solid state radio in a padded case. Once identities were exchange the Operations Center would do an immediate check on the history of the identified individual or group.

Since it was all computerized it was done while the conversation was occurring. There were only several cases where the people weren't invited to join the Valley. It would be explain why the individual couldn't join them. Fortunately there were no family groups involved; those not invited were all singles.

Even they were provided with the vaccine so they wouldn't spread the influenza.

As people were found their name was put into a public data base in the Valley. Sadly very few were lost loved ones or friends.

Once the individual was seen to take the vaccine on camera they were allowed into the self-driving car which had been sent for them. The car would have enough food and water for the journey.

There were several encounters that were memorial. One of those was a group of seven children. They were led by a ten-year old girl. She had brought the group together in the town of Springfield. Using a self-driving car programmed to hit every street in town with horn blaring she brought the other six kids together.

Her parents had owned and ran a pizzeria which made wood fired pizza. This was their heat source. She taught herself how to run a forklift and brought in pallets of two by fours for fuel from the local lumber company.

One of the boys, a nine-year old figured out how to start a portable generator from a home improvement store. This was used to provide battery chargers power. They were siphoning gasoline from cars.

Their leader had them use a lithium battery powered chain saw to cut up the winters fuel supply. She remembered her grandpa telling her that gasoline couldn't be stored for very long so wanted to be ready for the winter. She also required safety glasses to be worn when cutting the wood.

The local water plant had lost pressure to the system for some reason. For rest room facilities they had portable camping gear gleaned from a sporting goods store. The plastic bags were dumped through the broken window of a basement in a building several blocks down the street. A special note was made in the Valley system about that building.

Clothes and food were plentiful for the group so they were in very good shape when found. They used paper cups and plates which ended up in that basement. Five gallon water jugs were stacked up where they had scavenged them.

The backroom of the pizzeria was converted to a dormitory. Each child had a chest of drawers for their clothes. She had assembled a first aid kit for cuts. They had a collection of games, both electronic and board. It was evident that they didn't spend all their time playing.

A small armory of shotguns, rifles and handguns along with cleaning supplies and ammunition had been gathered. They had shooting practice three times a week and while not expert they could use the weapons.

To top it all off they continuing their reading, writing and arithmetic lessons, each helping the other.

Rick made note of Linda McDermott's name and intended to keep track of how she performed in the future. This kid was a natural leader.

Each of the children when they came to the Valley was absorbed into a family group. The original families of the Valley had expanded as large as they could reasonably be. New families were being formed within weeks of the individuals coming to the Valley.

Those from the outside had a dose of being alone and didn't like it.

It wasn't all sweetness and light on the recovery. The worse area was in Idaho. Most of the survivalists were just trying to do that. However, some of them had taken a page out of Major Watkins playbook. Before the Fall they had reconnoitered the other camps, caves and tunnels.

While many had tried to maintained security and remain hidden it really wasn't possible with modern surveillance equipment. When it was evident that the big die off was in progress they all remained in their bunkers. Once they came out those that were going to die had done so.

This still left a population of almost one thousand in the area. The strongest immediately set themselves up as warlords. After a few fights, they were too small to call battles; the area came under the control of one strong man. James Bolton.

Bolton promptly reintroduced the practice of slavery and maintained a harem. He must have read too many post-apoplectic stories. He and his thugs ruled with an iron hand.

Their foot print was so large that it was one of the earliest human centers that the drones picked up. Since it was big, Rick had them go slow and scout the place out well. The Idaho group had light planes so they stayed high and made no contact.

In Rick's military staff meeting where they first discussed this group there never was a question that they wouldn't let this stand. The only question was the how. They called Judge O'Malley in, who reviewed all the facts. He suggested they turn it over to the District Attorney.

The DA's office called a grand jury together who indicted the group in absentia. While under martial law there was no concern about posse comitatus violations. Actually under his authority Rick could have ordered them taken out, but he wanted to retain as much of the law and order of the old United States as possible.

This wouldn't be a quick raid operation. The enemy had over two hundred armed men. Granted they weren't a trained organized army, but two hundred weapons have a quality of their own.

His staff planned an operation that would occur in several phases. A scouting team was set in place fifty miles from the Idaho base. The slavers had set up in Soda Springs, Idaho for some reason. It was a cross roads type town.

While the scouts were doing their work a series of supply depots were opened along the route to Idaho. They had hopes of bringing back almost eight hundred people. Even with self-driving cars and buses there would have to be rest stops and overnight stops along the way.

It took two months to pre-position food, fuel and set up lodging along the way. One plus from the operation was that they found five more individuals along the way. Each was acceptable to the Valley and all were over joyed to join the community.

The whole time the scouts had been reporting back. By the time the last post was setup a battle plan was in place. The slavers had set up large inflatable huts for everyone except the leaders. They had the nicest housing in town for themselves.

They would send out units daily on scavenging trips using school buses and semi-trucks. They had gotten to the point that the scavenging teams would be out for several days. There would be twenty five people on a team. Five of them would be armed guards, the rest slaves to do the actual work.

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