River Of Night – Snippet 06

River Of Night – Snippet 06

CHAPTER 2

Site Blue (Bank Recovery Site Number Four)

Blue Ridge Mountains, Western Virginia

Paul was walking the perimeter.

His daily routine varied between leading patrols outside the wire, performing night time light discipline checks or pulling maintenance on their limited supply of equipment. There were other members of the ad-hoc security team, even a few whose experience approached his, that could have performed the chore.  Nonetheless, he always found time to stroll watchfully along the internal fence line. It helped him maintain a sense of proportion. As tough as it was, things could have been worse.

He paused as the screams of a hunting pack carried across the valley. After the sound died he resumed his route.

Even though Site Blue, named for the Blue Ridge Mountains, had not been completed by the time of the Fall, it had begun with some clear advantages. Those advantages had been critical to preserving the smaller than expected group that sheltered there.

Site Blue was situated on the finger of a ridge overlooking a small lake, fed by a tributary of the Tennessee River. The land was anything but flat. The southern end of the Cumberland Valley was dominated by lines of steep, parallel ridges that were separated by cultivated land and small towns. Situated near the top of one such ridge, the site benefited from the elevation. Foraging zombies were disinclined to climb it and other survivors couldn’t see their camp unless they were right on top of it.

Paul paused his walk and rubbed his smooth scalp. For the moment his supply of disposables was holding out, but eventually he was going to have to figure out how to use a straight razor or let his hair grow back.

He looked over his shoulder, where the camp blended into the hilltop. The earthen berm that was arranged like a horseshoe around main facility dated to the origin of the camp as an old Scout lodge. As a result, there was a natural obstacle which prevented direct line of sight into the center of the camp. This reduced the chance of a light leak being detected from outside their hide-away at night.

Beyond the berm was a new narrow link expandable fence. More expensive than chain link, it was harder to climb. The bank prep team had placed it inside a treeline a few hundred yards from the berm. It constituted their first layer of barrier defense.

In the camp itself, a few buildings had been updated, though none were especially large or modern. The white painted communal eating hall had started life as the Scouts’ cafeteria, so it included enough seating for three times their current number. The workshop was a converted barn that still had a packed dirt floor. The administration building had been a sales office, intended to sell the camp off in lots after the Scout facility closed for good. A long, low prefabricated building served as their warehouse, stuffed with more than a hundred pallets of FEMA meals, the civilian version of the military’s reviled Meals Ready to Eat or MRE. It had taken less than a week for the survivors to rehash every MRE joke in existence.

A small collection of solar panels generated intermittent power sufficient to keep a bank of deep cycle marine batteries mostly charged. With those, limited electric lighting was permitted inside spaces with blackout curtains. Rows of tan Containerized Housing Units, or CHUs, were neatly arranged along gravel lanes just broad enough to accommodate a vehicle. BotA had found a literal shipload and acquired them for less than disposal cost during the American withdrawal as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down.

His old boss, Tom Smith, had sworn that they’d find a use for them, eventually. And so they had.

The full complement of bank staff had never been assigned since Blue was the least prepared of Bank of the America’s refuges. The formal management structure which Smith had planned was never stood up. Since few of the senior bankers who were to be evacuated to Blue had arrived, the onsite survivors had created an ad-hoc council to provide a way to organize the camp, apportioning work, distributing supplies and enforcing the rules that kept them all safe. As the senior-most surviving bank security representative, Paul attended both the informal daily morning breakfast coordination meeting as well as the bigger weekly Sunday get together.

He glanced back towards the camp, but it was still safely dark.

Zombies tracked light sources. So did other survivors. Both were dangerous.

Careful to avoid silhouetting himself against the skyline, Paul approached a short rise downhill from the fence and looked out, across the valley.

The dying light drew long shadows across his fields of view. No electric lights were visible anywhere. Humans instinctively feared the night. The infected, unless baited by artificial light or prey activity, tended to quiet down and stay near shelter during night hours. It was daylight that brought the greatest threat from zombies.

He sighed as he turned his steps back into the camp. The weekly meeting was in a few minutes. Paul had insisted on deferring major decisions until more bank staff showed up and, because of his role at the bank, he had gotten his way. After several weeks however, he had begun considering the possibility that neither Smith nor anyone else was going to show.

Paul had spent all his time putting out fires, adjudicating minor disagreements, checking on critical supplies while trying to find things for the other survivors to do in order to keep them busy.

There too many little crises every day. He’d been forced to ask one of the non-bank refugees for assistance. He knew entirely too much about Joanna Kohn to be comfortable around her. Formerly the director of NYC Office of Emergency Management, she’d been one quarter of the informal but powerful council that had coordinated efforts between the cops, Wall Street, the gangs and the City government. Apart from the locals in the camp, she’d built the next largest group of organized staff and had sufficient stature to make their joint decisions stick.

Despite her calculating nature, Paul had to acknowledge that it was her warning about the cops losing their minds that had let as many bank staff escape on what became the last day of New York.

The first day of the Fall.

Working with Kohn, whom he knew to be a murderer, wasn’t his first choice. Or his fifty-first choice.

None of this was.

Paul knew that he was going to have to come up with something sooner or later. Maybe when things were more settled.

###

“Calm down, everyone,” Tom instructed. “That means you too, kids.”

Astroga used a gentle head chop to get the attention of a tow haired teen named Katrin. Worf looked on approvingly.

The three amigos, as Astroga had labeled them, continued to bounce back from the early terror of the escape from Manhattan. Katrin Jonsdottir was the obvious ringleader, her second was dark haired, crew-cutted Eric Perry and the last was Cheryl Blaine, a quiet redhead.

“I wanted all of us to hear this this, so I even pulled in the usual guard,” Tom said, referring to the twenty-four hour guard duty that rotated among the competent adults. “We’ve been waiting here for the situation to settle down, get clearer. The initial confusion, the explosion of infected and the breakdown of civil government has paused, or at least not gotten worse in the last month. So… it’s time to tell you what I think we should do next.”

“Are you going to be in charge forever?” Dina folded her arms petulantly across her chest. She’d calmed down a few hours after her break, but hadn’t forgiven anyone for leaving her restrained for so long. “When do we get to vote? This is still a democracy, isn’t it?”

“Okay, let’s address that first,” Tom replied. “There’s no more United States, as we knew it. There’s, as far as we can tell from here, no one left in charge anywhere. For the time being, the survivors in this little band have accepted that we need someone to be in charge and that I’m that someone. I’m not going to call for votes on every important decision. If you don’t like that, I’ll not stop anyone from leaving. However, I’ll make the rules and my trusted team will enforce them.” He paused and looked directly at Bua. “So, no. This isn’t a democracy.”

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