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Authors: Glen Tate

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BOOK: 299 Days IX: The Restoration
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So Tom found another place to go. The kids were starting to feel like his family by that point. He had a few older teens to help him as they traveled place to place. They were in regular homes and occasionally businesses during the spring and summer. Sympathetic adults would take in some street kids. As cruel and selfish as life had become during the Collapse, there remained surprising pockets of decency everywhere. It was still possible, early in the Collapse, to be charitable. Food was in short supply, but no one was starving in Olympia, which often had first dibs on supplies because of all the important government people in that city.

In the fall, when things started getting really bad in Olympia, Tom and his kids had to go to their first abandoned building. Luckily for them, there were plenty of abandoned buildings. Then the gangs moved them out. To his amazement, the first gang didn’t try to steal any of the girls. The gangbangers were Mexicans and some of them – the reluctant ones, who were new to the gangs - even prayed the Rosary for the kids, but told them they had to leave.

The second gang to evict them was a Russian group and they were not nearly as nice. Tom managed to get the kids out of that place and they ran for their lives. That was when Tom and two of the teenagers secured some guns. One of the younger kids had them; they never asked her how she got them.

“Tom’s kids,” as they became known, would support themselves in various ways. They scavenged. They did odd jobs. Even though the economy was essentially non-existent, there were still little jobs to be done, like moving things, unloading things, and sweeping a parking lot.

They also stole things. Tom didn’t like that since he was supposed to be setting a good example, but the first time one of the kids came back with a handful of stolen FCards, the decision was easy. They were hungry. Not “snack” hungry, but “haven’t eaten for three days” hungry. And if they returned the FCards, they would never get back to their rightful owners. Tom viewed the FCards as gifts from God, not stolen merchandise.

By now, there were fifteen kids. The youngest was six and the oldest was seventeen. Completing the group was Tom and the two older teenagers, for a total of eighteen people.

Tom asked Pow who they were.

Before replying, Pow put his hand up. He had more important things to get done. “None of these kids leaves this place,” Pow said firmly and quietly. “Got it?” He looked around to make sure no kids were listening.

Pow looked Tom right in the eyes and said, “If one of them tries to leave, we’ll shoot all of you. Okay? No one can know we’re here.” Pow hated to be a dick and really didn’t want to hurt any of the kids, but he couldn’t have them running away and telling some Limas that they were at the brewery.

Tom nodded. “There are eighteen of us,” he said.

Pow said, “Oh, I know, I counted. But thanks. You are responsible if one of them leaves.” Pow gripped his rifle and said, “You understand what I’m sayin'?” He wouldn’t really shoot a kid or Tom, but he needed them to think that he would.

“Understood,” Tom said, believing Pow’s every word. He believed Pow would shoot them because that’s what everyone else in Olympia seemed to be capable of.

“So, who are you guys?” Tom asked again.

Pow put his hand up again and walked away. He had no time for that question. Pow went over to Grant and they huddled together with Scotty, who was talking to the convoy. They were working on getting one of the Team back to the truck where Donnie was waiting and then guiding the whole convoy in. They were trying to figure out where to park the semi. Chitchat about who they were would have to wait. Besides, they didn’t want to tell these kids anything too important, just in case one of these kids decided to go tell the authorities.

Tom went back and told all the kids that they could not leave the building for any reason whatsoever. If they did, the soldiers would hurt all the remaining kids, Tom said.

“Who are these guys?” Carrie, one of the teenagers, asked Tom.

“Dunno,” he said. “If they were a gang, we’d have known it by now.”

“They look like military contractors,” she said. Her dad had been at Ft. Lewis and was now a contractor, though she had no idea where he was.

That’s what Tom had been thinking, too, and it made him wonder if the Team was somehow involved in what was going on outside the brewery with all the explosions and gunfire since New Year’s Eve. That was more likely than them being FCorps or something else.

Tom started to work on getting the kids settled down, making sure they were warm, and keeping their spirits up. If these guys were Patriots, the police and soldiers would want to attack them, which meant his kids would be in the line of fire.

He heard a truck drive up and a few new soldiers arrived. Soon after, Tom heard a semi-truck idling. They pointed their headlights into the building so there was actually some light in there for a change.

More soldiers poured in and everyone instantly became busy getting things in order.

Pow came over to Tom. “I need you to get everyone up to the second and third floors and stay there. We’ll assign a soldier to you so you can communicate with us. We’ll be on the first and fourth floors.”

Tom nodded. Pow pulled something out from under his shirt. It was on a chain around his neck and he kept his hand over it.

Pow motioned for Tom to follow him over to the kids. Once Pow had the kids assembled before him, he said to them, “Okay, you guys wondered who we are.” He lifted his hand and there was his “badge.” It was the concealed weapon permit badge he used when the Collapse started so he could avoid getting shot by the police when he had to pull a gun on someone.

“We’re the good police, kids,” Pow said with a big, warm smile and pointed toward his “badge.” He was a softie and was feeling bad that he had to be so gruff with them. He was trying to make up for it. “I told you earlier that we are the good police and, here, I have a badge to prove it.” The kids were in awe.

“We are here to take the bad people to jail,” Pow said. “But we need your help. You can’t leave here. The bad people might take you and make you tell them where we are and who we are. So no one leaves. Got it?” They all nodded.

With some decent light for the first time, Pow could see the kids’ faces. They were filthy, and looked hungry, cold and scared. No kid should have to go through this. And no more will if we win, Pow thought.

 

Chapter 295

Bedtime Story

(January 1)

 

 

“I don’t want to run a fucking daycare,” Ted said after he assessed the brewery situation and found Grant. “Not to be a dick, but we’re not here to be a daycare.”

“I disagree, Sergeant,” Grant said, asserting his authority, but doing so away from the hearing of the other troops. Ted had never heard Grant call him “Sergeant” like that.

“You’re totally right that we can’t let these kids put us in danger,” Grant said, “but we’re here to take care of them. And all the others in Olympia who aren’t trying to kill us. We’re here to be a daycare, and a kitchen, and a hospital. After we kill and capture all the Limas.”

Grant paused for a moment and said firmly, “Our civil affairs mission starts right now. With these kids.”

“Yeah,” Ted said, realizing Grant was right, “but how are we supposed to take care of them when…”

Just then, Ted and Grant saw Franny walking up to the kids with a case of MREs.

“Hey,” Franny said to the kids with a big smile. “Some of these even have Skittles and M&Ms. Who is going to find them first?” The kids started grabbing the MREs. It sounded like Christmas with ripping open presents. Or looking for the toy prize in a box of cereal.

Tom and the teenagers were opening up the MREs with pocket knives and dumping the contents on the floor. The kids were scrambling on the floor to get all the food.

“I got the Skittles!” a little girl yelled out.

“You have to share,” Tom said. “We share everything.”

“I got the M&Ms!” a twelve or thirteen year-old boy yelled out. With the semi idling, there was no danger that someone outside would hear the kids.

After dividing up the candy, the kids starting sharing the rest of the meals. Even the cold clam chowder was devoured. The finicky palate of a kid becomes less finicky when he or she hasn’t eaten in days.

“Thank you, good police,” a five or six year-old said to Franny, who swelled up with pride. This was exactly why he was doing this.

“We’ll keep them locked up on the second and third floors,” Grant said to Ted. “We’ll stage from the first floor and use the fourth floor for observations. We’ll go out now and clear all the other surrounding buildings. The kids’ leader tells us that the other buildings are locked and empty.”

“Fine,” Ted said. “But the kids aren’t coming with us, right?” Ted felt like a heartless bastard saying that, but he didn’t want Grant to take in the stray kids and get them all killed.

“Oh, hell no,” Grant answered. “That would be crazy.”

Grant thought about it. “You know, we might stay here for a while. It’s too hard to move a semi around the city streets. We’re right here on a key off ramp. We’re about a mile and a half from the capitol,” he continued, pointing north. “It’s right down this street, a nice wide street. There is plenty of cover the whole way down that thing.”

Ted thought about it. “Hmm … it’s not a bad idea. They’ll never suspect this old abandoned factory is our base. Brewery. I guess it’s a brewery, not a factory.”

Grant nodded. “What else do we need to be doing now?”

“Securing the buildings, setting up defenses,” Ted said. “Coms are up and running. We’ve called in to HQ to tell them we’re here and that any friendlies in the area are welcome to assemble here.”

“When all that’s done,” Grant said quietly, “I need to take a nap. Is that okay?” He didn’t know if taking a nap in combat was uncool, especially for a commanding officer.

“Sure,” Ted said. “How long you been up? Thirty-six hours?”

Something like that,” Grant said, suddenly noticing how tired he actually felt.

Over the next couple of hours, Grant was all over the place coordinating things, and working out problems. Details were starting to get blurry to him and he began having a hard time talking.

There were plenty of sounds to keep him awake. The sound of gunfire would go up and then down. There were some pitched battles taking place. HQ told them that the Limas were falling back quickly to the capitol campus, which was the beautiful park-like grounds where the domed legislative building and Governor’s mansion was. The place was heavily defended; mortars, according to HQ. A couple of tanks, even.

According to HQ, the main Lima threat was roving bands of gangs sometimes mixed in with renegade cops and National Guard. They were desperate and killing everyone they could. They knew they’d be killed by the Patriots so they were going to go out with a bang.

Grant decided that he could no longer function without a nap. He wanted a smile on his face before he napped, so he slowly went up the stairs to the second floor where the kids were. He wished he could tuck in Cole, but saying goodnight to some runaways would have to do.

He walked onto the second floor and saw something amazing. With the light of a lantern, one of the female soldiers, Corporal Sherryton, the former air defense computer tech, was reading the kids a bedtime story. Grant felt tears fill his eyes. He made sure no one saw him, while he stood there watching, taking it all in. He knew he was seeing something that would stay with him the rest of his life.

The story was over quickly and the kids were begging for Sherryton to read another one. At that point, Grant trudged—his feet felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each—up to the fourth floor to the observation point.

There were about a half dozen soldiers up there. They were illuminated by a big lantern and many of them were wearing headlamps. It was quiet there and the whole scene was surreal to Grant. He sat down on the concrete floor of the empty shop floor and closed his eyes.

Lisa was there. She was crying. She was asking him why he left a second time. She said no one was there to tuck in Cole. She started to push him.

Grant opened his eyes. A soldier was waking him up.

“Sorry, sir,” he said. “Sgt. Malloy said I needed to wake you up.”

Grant looked at his watch. It was 11:06 p.m. He’d been out for about three hours. He simultaneously felt great and horrible. The rest felt amazingly good, but he wanted, and needed, more. The thought of getting up was awful. He wondered if he could stand up, but he acted like it was no big deal. If the commanding officer was asleep … well, that set a bad example. He jumped up like he was wide awake, just like he wanted all his soldiers to be.

“Thanks,” Grant said to the soldier. “I’m up now.”

There were more soldiers than before up on the fourth floor. Something was going on.

The unit had one set of night vision binoculars. They were a civilian model which was available before the Collapse. HQ managed to snag a bunch of them and got one to Marion Farm about a month before. They were a Godsend. Grant wished that either he or someone on the Team would have not bought yet another cool knife or holster and instead bought at least one set of night vision binos. Grant wished he’d had them for the scouting work they ended up doing, but in all the confusion of them taking over the scouting duties, they didn’t get the one pair the unit had. There were lots of little mistakes like this. It was inevitable. There were too many details, things moved too quickly, and everyone was sleep deprived.

BOOK: 299 Days IX: The Restoration
4.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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