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River of Night: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Friday, April 5, 2019 20:14 EDT



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.”



    “Who says!” demanded the schoolteacher. “What kind of dictatorship is this, I have rights!”

    “In order of your questions…” began Tom, “they say so.”

    He gestured to the little group of Bank of the America’s staff.

    Durante nodded and Kaplan smiled toothily. Risky and Copley flanked them, grim faced. All were fully armed.

    “Hey, I do say so too,” offered Astroga, looking up from her ever present green notebook. “What he said.”

    “And no, you don’t have any rights.” Tom said, continuing with surprising gentleness. “None of us do. There are no cops. There aren’t any courts. Civil rights, enforced by courts and policed by law enforcement, simply don’t exist, at least for now. But, we can be responsible to each other. Or not.”

    He answered Bua forthrightly. “Do you want to leave?”

    “I want to get out of here, yeah,” Dina said, sniffing. “But doing anything alone is suicide and you know that.”

    “And that’s the point,” replied Tom, sighing. He looked around the rest of the room. The kids were clustered around Emily while Dina had segregated herself in a corner. “We’ve survived thus far by exercising discretion and patience. We aren’t going to overcome our next set of problems using just superior firepower.”

    “Ha,” Fat Ralph snorted. The youngest of the remaining Cosa Nova gangsters had been trying to fit in, but he whether he was an asset or a liability remained a question. “There is no overkill, theres-“

    “Yeah, yeah, we know the quote, Ralph,” Durante said. “It comes from a comic strip. If that’s where you get your tactical doctrine it explains why there’s only two of you guys left.”

    Durante was the second of Tom’s special hires, and his military resume was even more redacted than Kaplan’s. Before the Fall, he’d been part of the original Biological Emergency Response Team, or BERT, that Bank of the America’s had fielded under Tom’s leadership. Locating and capturing the infected that they needed had become routine. The actual “harvest” – extracting the still warm spinal tissue needed for manufacturing the attenuated live-virus vaccine production – hadn’t.

    But Tom, Kaplan and Durante had persisted, and trained others, like the NYPD.

    And Ralph’s old boss, the former head of the Cosa Nova organization.

    Ralph subsided. His surviving friend, Vinnie Mouse Sacks, laughed quietly. Sacks, as he was previously known, never passed up a chance to stick it to someone else, perhaps because he had not yet escaped the insulting nickname that his old boss had stuck to him. Both men had mostly recovered from the gunshot wounds they had suffered during the fighting in the City.

    “Moving on… the plan broadly is this,” Tom resumed smoothly, and tapped a map of the southeastern U.S. “Our goal is to reach Bank of the America’s Site Blue. It lies in Tennessee, 400 miles west of our current location. Site Blue should have a large number of bank survivors. It’ll have much more room, it’s defensible and there should be some communications equipment. There should also be people that we can trust already there. Halfway there we’ll try to stop at a place where I hope some of my friends are holed up, basically another SAFE, sort of like this one. I certainly don’t intend to walk, so we are taking the two Suburbans that were cached here and will keep our eyes out for another vehicle.”

    He paused and used one finger to trace the route west.

    “There are highways nearly the entire way, but…” he tapped the closet medium sized city, Petersburg, and then a few others that lay westwards, “…they’re close to population centers so we shouldn’t expect that they will be passable.”

    He scanned his audience, reading hope in some faces, fear in others. “His” team kept their game faces on.

    “Questions so far?” Tom offered.

    “Is next SAFE also for Bank of the Americas?” Risky asked.

    “No, its a private connection, a sort of personal real estate investment from before.” Tom said.

    “I’ve got one,” Emily said, tentatively raising her hand. “Can we vaccinate the kids?”

    “That’s a question, alright,” Tom replied with pursed lips “As some of you know, and the rest guessed, we have vaccine. What we don’t have is a doctor who can evaluate if younger kids can tolerate the kind of vaccine which we’ve got. It isn’t recommended for children because the vaccine contains attenuated live virus. It made my thirteen-year-old niece very ill, and she’s about the same age as the kids with us. Also, we’ve been keeping the case cold using the vehicle batteries, but I don’t know how long the vaccine will be good for. A competent doctor could tell us – and that is another reason to get to Site Blue.”

     “I got another, Boss,” Durante said. “Day or night?”

    “What Gravy means is whether we travel in the daytime or the nighttime.” Tom nodded at Durante. “The answer is that we can do either, but there are pros and cons. Zombies and uninfected humans rely primarily on their vision. Night vision isn’t magic, and performance of the goggles varies. You can still only see so far. The further we can see, the more advance warning we have about a potential danger then the more time we’ll have to decide when to push and when to run. And at night, any uninfected adversary will have an advantage, since we’ll be moving into their space. At night we have less warning.  Our natural advantages is that we’re still thinkers and problem solvers while the infected aren’t. I intend to use that. Thus we’ll move during the day. We’ve got a few sets of night vision devices but batteries and spare parts are a question so we save them for emergencies.”

    “When do we leave?” piped up Risky.

    “Day after tomorrow,” Tom replied easily. “so start packing your personal gear, but pack light. Kaplan, you’re on comms and navigation. Copley, food and water. Gravy, you’re on weapons. Bring everything we have ammo for, including Mk19 that we dragged here from New York.”

    “You sure, boss?” Durante replied, dubiously. “We’ve got almost no ammo for that pig, it takes forever to deploy and it’s going to take up a lot of room just by itself”

    “Thus, packing light,” Tom said. “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

    “Hey, boss!” Astroga nearly yelled, waving her hand in the air. “Really important question!”

    “Oh?” Tom answered cautiously. “Go ahead.”

    “Road trips require music,” she said. “What are the rules?”

    “Oooh, music!” Katrin said enthusiastically, and started singing. “Party rock is in the house tonight! Everybody just have a good time!”

    “Every day I’m shufflin’,” chorused the other two middleschoolers, before standing and pumping their arms and skidding their feet on the carpet.

    Astroga whipped her notebook about.

    “LMFAO, check.”

    “Wait, what?” Copley inquired, looking back to Astroga. “No. Just no.”

    And the meeting ended on a higher note than Tom had expected.



    “Good evening everyone,” Joanna politely opened the meeting. “This is the second monthly anniversary of our safe exit from New York. On a terrible, terrible day, when so much went wrong, many sacrificed everything in order to evacuate as many others as possible. I propose a minute of silence to commemorate the fallen.”

    She bowed her head and murmurs sounded around the table as everyone else copied her example.

    Joanna had carefully positioned herself in the ad hoc council from the outset, persuasively offering her experience in disaster management and recovery efforts. She’d actively pitched in at the start, but slowly withdrawn from the most demanding physical work, instead organizing the camp with the handful of other informal leaders. Camp meetings had been over attended at the start, but as the weeks passed, most staff had fallen away, tired or depressed. At this point, only a handful of bank staff still attended, and most of them were not Smith’s people. All of Joanna’s staff, both the old and the new, as well as some hangers-on were present.



    The former head of New York Office of Emergency Management used the minute of silence to review the top points that she would bring to the others. After two months of waiting, of merely surviving, it was time to consider what their mission was to be.

    And who would lead it.

    Joanna had some ideas.

    “Thank you,” She said briskly. “We are in a strange time. While it has been necessary to gather ourselves and process what has happened, I think that we are overdue to take stock and determine what options, if any, we have. I have asked Kendra Jones, formerly of Bank of the America’s, to prepare a high level overview of just where we stand.”

    “Wait a minute!” Paul said, interrupting the city official. “What’s this ‘formerly’ business. The bank is our employer. I’m the senior representative of the organization that arranged, funded and prepared this place. There is no ‘formerly’!”

    Joanna observed as Rune glared at Kendra and then back at Joanna herself.

    “Paul, I think that your exclamation highlights the need to evaluate the situation realistically,” Joanna said, gesturing with one hand up at the suddenly intense security officer. “I think that if you allow Kendra to proceed you will understand my point. Kendra, please?”

    Kendra stood and riffled a sheaf of handwritten notes, avoiding meeting anyone else’s eyes. Like the rest of the camp, she’d lost some weight due in part to the unavoidable food rationing. It made the angles of her face sharper.

    “Alright, from the top,” Kendra said, with a look at Joanna who smiled encouragingly. “Camp population is stable at ninety-six souls and we haven’t had a walk-in in six weeks.”

    Kendra referred to the dozens of people who, attracted by the helicopter activity during the final days of the evacuation, had approached the main gate on foot or in private vehicles. By the time Paul had arrived in the last helo, they were already partially integrated into the fabric of the camp. Even more frustrating, he had been compelled to use much of their vaccine to inoculate the “walk-ins”, if for no other reason than they were already inside the camp and they would be a tremendous danger should they turn. They were more than half of the camp now. Two of their leaders were present, sitting next to Kohn.

    “I’ll address the easy items first,” Kendra referred to the next page. “Water is fine, between the well and the filtration system we’ve enough water for drinking, cooking and washing. The vehicles, equipment and fuel are fine since we are only running them for brief periods to keep the batteries charged. Our communications watch reports no new transmissions and the major stations remain silent.”

    “Nothing at all?” asked Wilton, one of the two “walk-in” representatives.

    “Nothing from any federal or state source since the start of the month,” replied Kendra. “We had contact with Site Bugle during periods of ideal radio propagation through the end of September, but we haven’t been in contact since.”

    “How hard are we trying?” the refugee demanded aggressively. “How often are we transmitting?”

    “We’re not transmitting,” Paul replied forcefully. “During the Fall, there were hundreds, then dozens of stations all sharing information or calling for help. We still hear some stations like that but the number is steadily dropping. They’ve nothing to offer us nor we them, so there’s no point. In order to avoid draining our batteries and to avoid getting DF’d we haven’t been transmitting, on my authority.”

    “Dee-Effed?” Wilton said with a snort. “What the hell is that? And what authority do you have here, city boy?”

    “He means that we could get found,” Sergeant Cameron “Gunner” Randall spoke up, glaring at the civilian loudmouth. The tall Army National Guard has begun as a Specialist, but his old patrol-mate Astroga had shot gunned some promotion paperwork when no one had been watching. Gunner had been pretty isolated since they’d landed, but nevertheless had been invaluable to Paul. Courtesy of his Army training, he was the primary radio operator. “You transmit long enough, or regularly enough, and someone else can triangulate our position and come a’calling, see?”

    “Please!” Joanna said, her voice stopping the incipient argument. “Let us hear the rest of Kendra’s report and then we can prioritize what we have to discuss.”

    “Umm,” Kendra said, glancing back at her notes. “Look, there’s more, but what it comes down to is food and medical. While we budgeted for more than twice our present number for a period of one year, this camp received neither the complete suite of equipment nor supplies. The initial plan included supplementing those supplies with locally sourced or internally grown crops. We aren’t going to grow any meaningful amount of food until very late next spring, at the earliest. Even with our current two meals per day schedule, we’ll reach spring with our long term, shelf stable food supplies entirely depleted.”

    Kendra looked around the table but there weren’t many strong reactions. The basic math was already known to all present.

    “Apart from basic first aid, a couple of trauma bags and the small, remaining supply of vaccine, which we have to keep chilled, there are no medical supplies,” Kendra said, this time looking across the table to Anderson, the OEM staffer who had begun operating an ad-hoc clinic in the mornings. “We’ve got almost no antibiotics, no birth control, nothing beyond over the counter analgesics and no specialty trauma gear if we have a serious casualty. Worse, we don’t have a qualified doctor, even though Gunner and Schweizer have some practical experience. There are currently no life threatening medical case, but it looks like we do have several pregnancies, which thank God won’t come to term till spring or later.”

    “Thank you, Kendra,” Joanna said, and the bank analyst sank back into her seat as the OEM chief smoothly resumed control of the table and pivoted towards Rune. “Paul, as I noted at the start, it has been two months. We all recognize the amazing preparation and hard work that Bank of the America’s did to get us here. We owe you and your team a tremendous debt, but… there is no more OEM. And there is no more bank.”

    She paused for effect and the sharply rapped the table with her knuckles.

    “In fact, there may not be a government. We are on our own. We will have to rely on what we can accomplish for ourselves for the near future. No group of a hundred people can work efficiently as a committee. We need to determine our own authority and take steps to protect our little community. Does anyone disagree?”

    Joanna scanned the table. She could see Rune still looking daggers at his erstwhile subordinate who seemed equally determined to not look at him.


    She saw the doubt on a few new faces, but equally her private staff appeared relaxed and confident.


    “I propose that we that tonight we charter a council,” Joanna declared. “Each of our little communities will need to be represented. The former bankers…” she gestured to Paul “the former city staff…” she laid a hand across her chest, “the persons from the previous local community…” she smiled at Wilton, “… and specialists as needed.”

    “I’m not saying no, Joanna,” Rune said almost reluctantly as he looked around the table and then back to her. “We need something, sure.” His tone became skeptical. “What will your role be?”

    “Someone has to help coordinate, to administrate the plan that we all build together,” Joanna said, successfully refraining from smiling. “I am happy to serve in an acting capacity as we shake the bugs out of our system. I would like to be able to ask for your help. Perhaps you would consent to remaining our head of security?”

    She watched him think about it. He really didn’t have a choice and she knew it. He knew it too.

    This was going to be fun.





    “Get your ass in here, Biggs!” Loki said, holding the door for a man with heavy facial tattoos. “You were supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago!”

    “Hey, its all good, ‘migo!” the smaller ex-con smiled ingratiatingly, as he slid by, looking up at the much taller man. “Had to sort out a little situation over at the Rec Hall, is all.”

    Biggs hitched suggestively at his belt as he leered at the table before hooking an office chair with his ankle and plopping into it.

    “Enough!” Harlan Green ordered briskly. “This place is not a democracy. All you took my deal. You joined our association on my terms. There will be discipline. Discipline means being on time.”

    Harlan ignored Biggs’ prison yard patter as he consulted his wristwatch. The Patek Phillipe had a tan leather band that clashed with the adjacent bright red circlet of woven hair. He frowned and removed the watch before admiring his wrist again. Content, he then opened the notebook PC at his elbow. Around him, most of the meeting participants sat patiently.

    They damned well should. They owed him their lives. Harlan had engineered the entire plan that had led to this meeting.

    He’d built on his successful, initial recruiting session of prisoners from the State Penitentiary bus that had mysteriously crashed in a conveniently remote area. Those volunteers became his cadre, and helped with each successive round of interviews. With one exception, each person at the head table was a hand selected, carefully screened product of American prison system. Not all of his initial recruits had made it this far. There had been some breakage.

    One doesn’t engineer a borderline catastrophic bus crash, let alone three or four, without casualties, naturally.

    Speaking of which, Biggs hadn’t stopped talking yet.

    “Mr. Loki, if Mr. Biggs doesn’t shut up by the time you draw, shoot him in the head,” Harlan ordered.

    Loki made a lighting draw from his chest rig and was on target a shade after Biggs’ mouth clopped shut. The huge man preferred a big pistol, and his H&K Mk23 actually appeared to be a normally sized pistol in his oversized hands.

    The violent elimination of one of the inner circle wasn’t unknown, but no one had been culled in this manner in weeks. Everyone sat a little straighter. The men on either side of Biggs leaned away from him in involuntarily reflex. 

    “And if he opens his mouth again other than to answer a direct question from me,” Harlan said, “you may shoot him without warning.”

    “Done, Mr. Green.” replied Loki, his voice rumbling menacingly.

    No one, and probably not any four of the inner circle, could take Loki in a straight up fight. Since Harlan had carefully avoided recruiting prisoners with shared gang affiliation or other documented ties to each other, he was confident that no one would stick their neck out for a relative stranger. By the time that they knew each other well enough for that to become possible, they would either have accepted his leadership or been excused

    Thus, if Biggs opened his mouth he would die.

    Harlan didn’t feel particularly strongly about it other way, as long as Biggs stayed quiet. None of the candidates meant to become his lieutenants meant especially much to him, apart from their utility. All of them were sociopaths; they’d been chosen for that very quality. That meant that they shared, to a certain extent, his lack of empathy for other people. However, they were also prone to rash action and could give in to their baser desires at inefficient moments.

    That’s was fine, as long as it served his purpose. Otherwise, bang.


    He didn’t feel bad about it, of course. They’d all been dead men in the supermax prison, so really he’d practically saved their lives, hadn’t he?

    From a very early date, it was obvious to Harlan that the H7D3 was a weapon. It became equally clear that the targets of the plague were broadly distributed and that barring some biological breakthrough, the disease was going to progress until it burnt its way across the entire planet. He ran some simulations through his own statistical models using datasets which he accessed somewhat entrepreneurially.

    Yes indeed, the disease had showed every sign of winning. Harlan was a little jealous. Quite jealous.

    Since it wouldn’t do to be caught in the biological trap set by whoever it was, he intended to leverage the conditions surrounding the fall of the American system. That would require a team.

    He would supply the brains.

    The team would provide loyalty and muscle, but the right sorts.

    Timing had been tricky. Too early and the law enforcement infrastructure would remain distressingly intact. Too late and both his recruits and his, well, call them his additional conscripts might be infected.

    Once Harlan had equipped himself with sysadmin permissions inside in the Virginia Department of Corrections system, he’d scanned the general population and special holding areas of the supermax prison for candidates.

    He had defined a specific profile. Sociopathic, but able to compensate somewhat. Intelligent, but not necessarily genius level. A record of some success, but not too much. Demonstrated capacity for violence tempered with control. In short, capable subordinates which he could both motivate and reliably direct.

    A simple Python script had narrowed thousands of names to a hundred or so. Creating prison transfer orders of those carefully selected inmates was equally straightforward.

    Loki had been the real jewel. Formerly Senior Corrections Officer Gilmar Hadolfsen, his name had popped up on one of the database searches that Harlan had performed when scanning for the correctional staff that he wanted to keep off the transfer buses.

    The senior prison guard’s profile had been intriguing. His records reflected complaints of excessive force, suspicion of organizing and participating in no-holds cage fights with the prisoners and he had been the focus of several unfruitful internal affairs investigations. He had prior military service and time as a private military contractor, linked to third party rendition operations. A deeper search of his personal records and finances had strongly suggested that he was enjoying income outside the scope of his official prison salary. That degree of moral flexibility blended intriguingly with capability.

    On a whim, Harlan had included him on the first set of recruits.

    It turned out that they had some shared interests.

    Which had worked out surprisingly well.

    Though less well for most of the rest of that particular shipment.

    “We’re poised for growth,” Harlan said, lecturing a very still audience, a few still eyeballing Loki’s rock steady pistol hand. “We have the basics of what we need to establish ourselves as a successful replacement for local government. Each of you will have a territory and a team. Within your assigned territory you will rescue those that can provide useful work, or fight or… otherwise contribute to our plan. Our priority is to identify any surviving civic structures and replace them. We’ll also organize the logistics necessary for food, clean water, sanitation, resupply and ahem, recreation.”

    This time there were a few low chuckles. Even Biggs smiled. With his mouth closed.

    “Those logistics will rely on vehicles, fuel and clear roads,” Harlan said, gesturing to the table that they shared. Gas station maps, cartographic maps, even a framed map of the regional voting districts were layered underneath pages of notes and a loose digital tablet. It was all about information. Information, control and vision.

    He had vision, and to spare.

    “We’ll organize labor forces to clear at least a single lane on every major road everywhere that we take and hold territory,” He looked at each person on his immediate staff. “For the nonce, you will principally work in pairs. Later, you’ll own and boss your own crews. Right now, we’ll continue to work in relatively close proximity to each other and we’ll grow our labor pool. Questions?”

    “I got one, Mr. Green,” Eva O’Shannesy said, raising her hand even as she spoke. The sole woman among the senior crew, she was snake quick and perhaps more prone to violence than the rest. “Do you got a place where you plan to set up shop or is one spot as good as another?”

    “That I do, Ms. O’Shannesy,” Harlan replied matter of factly. “Eventually, we’re going to need select a long term base that is both defensible and has access to important resources. Fortunately, we’ll have several options to explore soon enough. Meanwhile, mobility and productivity will remain our focus.”



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