Chapter 11: Making Plans
When David went to the kitchen to grab himself another beer, Sara followed him. As he turned around, he was surprised to find her standing just behind him.
“Whoa, you surprised me there.”
“Listen, David, do you think we could talk?”
“Sure, I’m always available to talk about anything you want. You should know that by now.”
She looked around before responding. “Could we go somewhere private, like maybe your bedroom?”
“What, are you planning to waylay me in there?” he teased. But he knew from her response that that was the last thing he should have said.
“No, it’s just that I’m worried about my mom,” she confessed as her eyes grew damp with impending tears.
“OK, you’re right. Let’s get away from this crowd and discuss this in private,” he said as he moved her out of the kitchen and up the stairs, not bothering to look back to see if anyone was observing them.
Getting to the room, he sat her on the bed, then grabbed a nearby chair and sat on it with the back facing forwards, so he could rest his arms on the back and focus on her responses as he spoke to her.
“Now, what’s the problem?” he asked, already knowing what it was likely to consist of.
“My mom’s been gone for quite a while, and while you’re right that she may have gotten busy with other things, I can’t see her just forgetting about me. I’m afraid that something terrible has happened to her.”
David knew right then that his face-to-face method of tackling this wasn’t going to work, even before she broke into tears. Standing up and moving the chair aside, he sat down beside her and took her into his arms. Once her arms were around him, the tears came. Neither one said anything, simply letting her get her tears out, tears she’d been working hard to keep to herself for all these days, and that now let loose didn’t seem ready to stop.
Only after she seemed to have stopped did David try to address the issue, hoping he was saying the correct thing.
“What you’re afraid of makes a lot of sense. I thought it strange when she didn’t return right away, and it’s been nagging at me what may have delayed her.”
He moved back so she could see his eyes, before he continued. “I’m still not sure it’s as bad as you’re thinking, but we need to address it. I think we need to check to see what happened to her. However, it’s going to take us a little while before we’re ready to make the trip back ourselves. How about if we give her another day, just to see if she shows up? Meanwhile I’ll talk to the sheriff and Bob about the current condition of the roads, and whether there’s any reports of problems between here and the city.
“The truth is, you girls really need to be back to your families, and I certainly can’t expect to keep you here with me indefinitely, even if you are cute and a lot of help. I’m sure the other girls want to see their families, too.”
“Oh, no, it’s not that,” she hurried to respond. “Oh, I guess it is, partially, but I’m not tired of staying here. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more secure anyplace else. But I really am concerned about what happened to her, and I can’t stand the idea that she may be lying in some ditch, having died all alone just because there was no one there when something happened to her.” At this point the tears started again, so David took her back into his arms.
Once again he didn’t try to reason away her fear, but simply held her, letting her deal with her fears as they came to her, letting the tears fall with only his close physical assurances to counterbalance them.
After that he focused on her feelings as he tried to get her to express her own fears, letting her talk it out. He didn’t try to convince her that her fears weren’t valid, and he didn’t suggest alternatives, just letting her vent for a bit. As he expected, she was happy with his plans to wait another day before venturing out, but she just wanted to know that he was planning something, and she felt better just being able to open up to someone.
When they’d talked for quite a while they got up and he took her back downstairs, offering her an ice cream float to help her cope, knowing that, as bad as it sounded, that it usually worked with Alice. However, when they reached the living room they found Bob excitedly describing something to the others. When he heard them coming down the stairs he paused, and addressed David directly.
“David? I just got some new information, and I think that everyone should hear it. The Government in Washington DC, just addressed the public for the first time since this whole crisis began, and what they described isn’t very pretty.”
That got David’s attention, and he and Sara forgot about her treat as they joined the others, telling Bob to continue.
“It seems the Secret Service acted fast when the meteor storm started. They, like everyone else, had no clue it was coming, and they had no indication of what was happening, but they noticed the breakdown in communication immediately and they assumed the worst. Figuring it was probably a terrorist attack, possibly a nuclear bomb somewhere that damaged the communications network with an EMP, they grabbed the central figures in the government; the President, Vice-President, the Speaker of the House and the rest, putting them on an emergency helicopter flight to their usual mountainside hideaway. Only it wasn’t as simple as that.”
He took a moment to compose himself before continuing. “Since they thought it was a potential nuclear attack, they wanted to get everyone to safety as quickly as possible. Thus they flew the President out on Marine Force One, and the Vice President and the others on a later helicopter flight. Not that it was a crowded flight, since Congress was out of session of most of the succession chain was at home. But instead of finding a safe refuge, they flew right into the meteor storm. They didn’t question the lack of communications, assuming it was the result of an attack, and their instrumentation wasn’t designed to detect small meteors. The plane was likely hit several times on the outskirts of the storm, which you’ll remember started near here. It went down with no survivors. The second flight had no warning of what happened to the first, since it had no radio contact and was flying a different route, and the same thing happened to that flight. It took them a long time to determine the flights didn’t make it, and they weren’t able to get anyone on the ground to even determine what had happened, though they managed to get a team in to determine that no one had survived either flight. Chances are, if anyone did survive, it likely took so long to reach them that they died soon afterwards.
In typical political thinking, those in control back in Washington decided they wouldn’t release the information, simply choosing not to address the issue. That’s why they’ve been silent about what’s been happening. Apparently the other functionaries who’d normally be in line for succession were in their home states and unable to respond, and likely never heard of what had happened. The next in line was the Secretary of the Interior, and supposedly he didn’t handle being in charge very well. It sounds like a few of the upper echelon of the military decided to shepherd him along, so it’s really open to interpretation who is really in charge at this stage.
“So far they haven’t committed anyone to dealing with the problems facing both the country and the world. When they finally announced the news, they also stated that they’d called out the military to ‘ensure the continued stability of the government’, making no mention of what they planned to do about the disruption to the rest of the country. So right now, it looks like we don’t have much of a government to rely on.”
“Wow, that’s major,” David whispered, unsure of how to respond to it.
“The talk on the radio, at least what there is of it, is that the military has essentially established control, and they’re mainly concerned with assuring they remain in control, using their troops to prevent a revolt rather than trying to stabilize the situation or help the people.”
“I can certainly understand their fears of people overreacting to this news, but keeping it a secret this long, and then trying to establish martial law afterwards, isn’t going to make people react any better to it,” Ellen observed.
“No, I figured that’s what they’re afraid of,” David commented. “The people will probably react badly to it, attempting to resist them. However I suspect they also figure that people are too disorganized right now, and thus they won’t be able to stage a resistance. So I think we’re stuck with a nonfunctioning semi-military dictatorship for the indefinite future.”
When no one else could think of how to respond, David decided to get everyone refocused on other issues.
“Bob, could you see what information you can find on how the roads are between here and the city? Which roads and bridges may be out? Any travel restrictions or blockages? I’m planning on heading back to the city, and I’m thinking we should probably take the girls home to their families at this point.”
However, the response to that was hardly reassuring to anyone listening. The girls reacted like someone had poured gasoline along the floor and set the room on fire.
“What? That’s ridiculous,” Amy said. “While they may be worried about us, they know where we are and that we’re safe, so there’s no call to send us back before they’re ready for us.”
“She’s right,” Caitlyn argued. “The same arguments you used in keeping us this long still apply. The city is likely in shambles, the roads aren’t clear, and there’s more threat to us out on the open roads than there is here. I don’t think it makes sense to return now.”
The hue and cry from the girls surprised David, who’d thought the girls would be homesick by now. He glanced at the adults, and they didn’t seem to be any more convinced by his suggestion than the others, although Flora had a bit of a self-satisfied smirk on her face.
“Well, we probably can’t take everyone back at once anyway,” he hedged. “I wanted to take Sara back so we can find her mother, so if any of you would like to—”
“I think I’d like to stay here,” Erica answered right away.
“It’s not that we’re not concerned about our families,” Julie tried to explain, “but I think it’s too early yet. They won’t be able to keep track of us, and our usual activities won’t be set up yet, so we’d basically just be in everyone’s way.”
“OK, if Sara and I head back into the city, who’d like to go along?” David asked.
The response was muted, and he could see everyone’s indecision. He figured, correctly, that the girls were conflicted. They wanted to accompany him wherever he might go, but they also didn’t want to return home too early.
“I think we should discuss this amongst ourselves before we put it to a vote,” Ellen suggested. “There’s a lot to consider, such as what you’ll need to take and what you should bring back, as well as who should accompany you. After all, if you, Linda, Alice and I go along, there won’t be room for anyone else unless we take all the cars, thus leaving everyone else stranded.”
David knew he was fighting a losing argument, so he abandoned his stance. “That sounds good. I told her I’d talk to the sheriff about what he knows about the roads between here and there, so we have time to discuss it.”
“I could have told you no one else would go for it,” Sara whispered to him. “I wouldn’t either, if I wasn’t so worried about my mom.”
Finally convincing everyone they needed to head to bed, reminding them how much they had planned and how early they’d have to get up to do it, David shepherded everyone upstairs. David went around after that checking up on everything, but found that the women seemed to have already taken care of everything.
Heading upstairs, he stopped to listen outside of the girls’ room. He didn’t hear anything, which was odd in itself, but he didn’t really think about it. Instead he went to his room, feeling ready for bed.
Opening the door, he found the light off. Thinking Ellen had already fallen asleep, he quietly closed the door. He was about to lock it, but remembered the times someone wanted reassurances during the night and thought better of it. So far the girls had been good. While they’d been free with the teasing, no one beside Flora had entered his bedroom without having been invited. He turned and was making his way to the bed, being careful to not bang his shin against the wooden bed frame, when the bedside light clicked on.
There, sitting together were both Ellen and Linda again, dressed in tantalizing lingerie and sitting up against the headboard.
“It’s about time you came aboard, sailor,” Ellen said, keeping her voice low and sultry.
“This seems to be becoming a regular thing,” David said, as he removed his clothes while watching the two women, appreciating what they were displaying for him. “The first two times you told me it was only because of a bad case of nerves, but I’m beginning to have my doubts now. Should I expect the two of you in my bed every night from now on?”
“Nah,” Ellen replied, “Linda just figured that if you’re heading into the city on Monday, that you’d want to spend tomorrow night with me, so she figured this would be her last chance to spend the night. Don’t worry; I won’t let anyone take advantage of you. She knows the rules.”
“Well, as long as someone understands the rules, because it seems like you’ve forgotten the central tenets of the basic boyfriend/girlfriend relationship,” he said as he climbed in between them.
“Hey, no one is forcing you to do anything. We can simply go to sleep. I’m sure no one will disturb you if you want to be left alone.”
“No, I’m not complaining,” David assured them, “it just seems that you’re changing the rules whenever it’s convenient for you.”
“Methinks someone speaks too much,” Linda said as she cuddled into him. “He always did this when we were married, too. I’d be all ready to snuggle, and he’d start talking about whatever ideas struck his fancy that day.”
Linda shut him up by kissing him and her hand snaked down to begin stroking him. Ellen wrapped herself around his back, and peered over his shoulder to watch what he and Linda were doing. But after a moment David broke off the kiss and pressed Linda back for a moment.
“Excuse me,” he said, before turning and calling out loudly enough to be heard out in the hallway, “If there’s anyone listening to us out there, I’d like to remind you that adults respect each others’ privacy.”
“There ain’t no one here but us field mice,” Amy answered, to which someone squeaked a few time, just for affect. David had a good idea who the other person was.
“Well, how about if the field mice go have some hot chocolate. We should be done in about a half hour, and we’d be more comfortable if we didn’t know someone was eavesdropping on us.”
“OK,” Amy replied in an elongated sad tone that brought a smile to the adults’ faces. “If you insist.”
Linda started to lean in for another kiss when David held his hand up to hold her off. He waited for several moments until they could no longer hear the sound of footsteps in the hallway.
“That goes for you, too,” he called out.
“Oh, man,” responded what sounded like Caitlin. “We were just hoping for an apres-sex cuddle.”
“That’s usually reserved for the people having sex,” Ellen reminded them.
“Hey, if you’re offering …” she responded. Someone else outside the door laughed.
“I’ll tell you what,” David announced, “if you want to cuddle afterwards, that’s fine. Just give us about a half hour. Better yet, we’ll call you when we’re done. That way we can get dressed afterwards.”
“Oh, man. That takes away half the fun of after-sex cuddling,” Julie replied.
“The phrase you’re looking for is ‘post coital’,” Linda informed then, before realizing just how ridiculous teaching children the proper term was in this context. Not to mention she’d just told everyone she was spending the night with her ex again.
“Come on. We’re not going to be as loud as we were last night, so you aren’t likely to hear anything anyway. We’ve learned our lesson. From now on we’re going to be as quiet as church mice.”
“That’ll be the day,” Caitlyn responded, but the adults could tell from the sounds that whoever was outside were also heading downstairs.
“Think that’s all of them?” Linda asked.
“I hope so,” David replied.
“Do you think this is going to become a regular thing?” Linda said, teasing David.
“I hope not, but I’m sure they’re just having fun. Being able to tease the adults about sex is something new for them. Once they’ve done it for a day or two it’ll get boring when they realize that nothing more is going to happen. I figure they’ll stop listening in pretty soon, and the teasing will lessen in a day or two as well.”
“Yeah, keep hoping,” Ellen replied.
“Can the two of you keep it quiet for a change?” David teased.
“Only if we get some hot chocolate and some apres-sex cuddling afterwards,” Linda answered. David hushed her up by kissing her. Ellen was still cuddling against David, but her curiosity was piqued, so after a few moments she climbed out of bed and went to the door without putting any clothes on, and peeked out the door. Seeing nothing, she opened it and looked out.
“Huh,” she replied, closing the door and coming back.
“I told you,” David said. “They’re more interested in being able to relate to us as adults. Listening to us having sex isn’t as exciting the second or third time as it is the first. Give them time, pretty soon they’ll get over the climbing into our bed stage, too.”
“That I’ll have to see to believe,” Linda replied, but they didn’t dwell on it any more as they had better things to focus on, especially now that their ‘fun time’ had been limited by David to only a half hour. The three of them kept to their word, making hardly a peep the entire time. They did make some noise, but not enough to be heard outside. The previous evening had been exciting for each of them, as it was a first threesome for each of them, supposedly. This was more familiar and somewhat more restrained.
“We’re done, if anyone is still interested,” Ellen called, leaning out the door and calling down the empty hallway facing downstairs.
“Think anyone’s still awake?” she asked the others as she came back to bed.
“Oh, most assuredly,” Linda answered, carefully folding the sheet over their laps. “I’d give them a few more seconds. Say in, five…, four…, three…, two….”
“Boy, we didn’t think you guys were ever going to finish,” Sara said as she opened the door and came in, trailing several others behind her.
“Hey, don’t blame me if I’ve got a little endurance,” David teased.
“Hey, nice Teddys,” Caitlyn said. “Think I could borrow one?”
“I don’t think it would fit you,” Ellen replied as she settled into the bed. “I’m a bit bigger on top than you are.”
Alice trailed in after the others, took one look at everyone, and walked into the attached bathroom.
“Hey, couldn’t you have gone while we were all waiting downstairs?” Julie called out, showing she’d gotten over her shyness by then.
Alice came out a second later, walked over to the bed and handed her mother a brush.
“Oh, thanks honey,” Linda blushed. “I didn’t think to check myself in the mirror when we were straightening up.”
“I can tell,” she said. “I prefer not being reminded what you were all up to. By the way, can I borrow your Teddy? After all, it would be more likely to fit me.”
“In your dreams,” Linda replied. “You may be old enough to know what’s going on here, but I don’t want you flouncing around announcing to the world that you look better in my clothes than I do.”
The other girls laughed at that as they took up positions around the bed, Alice forgoing the chair, settling in directly between her father and mother, who she still didn’t think should be getting so intimate with each other. Just then a few more people came in as well.
“What, you couldn’t save us a seat?” Maggie asked with a smile as she approached, wearing a thin nightgown and only a t-shirt and panties under it.
“Hey, if they want us to double up I’m fine with it,” Flora replied. “I see a nice spot in David’s lap.”
“Watch it,” Ellen warned, “you’re still on probation.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. But isn’t it past midnight yet?”
“Not quite. Don’t forget how early David likes to crash,” Ellen replied, poking him in the ribs for effect.
“Oh, then I’ll just sit here until the witching hour, then I’ll crawl into his lap,” Flora responded.
“Hey, I believe the idea was for you to respect boundaries,” David said, already having images of her walking in on him in the shower again.
“Don’t worry. I know what’s allowed and what’s not,” she told him as she sat on the nearby chair. “I know where I fit in and what I need to do to get along from here on out,” she continued, looking at Ellen the whole time.
“You know, as much as we appreciate the lingerie show, David didn’t really need to get dressed for this event,” Caitlyn teased.
“What makes you think he’s dressed?” Ellen asked, since the only parts of him that were visible were naked. He had the bed sheet pulled up to his waist.
The girls all turned and stared at him.
“Damn, I really should have sat on his lap,” Erica said.
“I can’t wait for midnight,” Flora echoed.
“OK, I can see why you’d all want to spend time with me, but since no one brought me any chocolate milk, I’m still interested in getting a decent amount of sleep,” David announced. “You can each curl up someplace, but I’m getting myself some sleep.”
“That’s fine,” Caitlyn said. “Sara, you sleep on his right, Julie, you sleep on his left. Erica, you sleep on top, ‘cause you’re so light. Me, I’ll fit in nicely underneath him.”
“OK, that’s enough,” Ellen said. “I’ll sleep beside David. Linda, if you don’t mind, you got your turn, so how about if we let Maggie cuddle up for the night. The rest of you can find anywhere else, but if you want to giggle and tease, you’d best head back to Alice’s room.”
Just as Ellen had described, no one argued with her once she laid out what the rules were. Everyone quickly settled down, which reinforced how much sway Ellen had over the others in the house. David admired that in her, he liked someone who took charge. He’d raised Alice to be decisive and to do what needed to be done when it needed to be done, and that was just what Ellen was doing.
It was quiet for a little while, when a little voice spoke up in the darkened room.
“Would you really leave us all alone?” Erica asked in a quiet voice.
Ah, there it was. That seemed to be a much better explanation for why everyone had come into the bedroom. David was right, it wasn’t that they were anxious to witness the three adults having sex, or even to tease them about it, but instead they’d hidden their anxieties behind their teasing bluster.
David didn’t want to focus more attention on the topic, so he spoke quietly, not sitting up or turning on the light, but he knew everyone in the room was listening to him. He explained why it was necessary for him to leave, how Sara was upset about her mother, and how she needed his protection as much as any of them. He further explained how there would be plenty of people here to watch out for them, and that the house was secure. But David knew that wasn’t the issue. They weren’t saying they weren’t secure. They were saying, through their non-responses, that they felt lost without him.
He’d become a substitute for their parents, since they were far away and could no longer look out for them. He knew they’d have to leave eventually, and he needed to promote their independence, but right now they simply wanted him here and talking. It didn’t so much matter what he told them, they simply needed to hear his reassuring voice telling them that he was concerned about them, and that he’d continue looking out for them.
He continued talking for a little while, until he got the impression most of the girls had drifted off, so he stopped talking. Ellen hugged him and kissed his ear, thanking him for taking the time to reassure the girls. He snuggled back into her and held her hand as they let themselves fall asleep. It was yet another hurdle overcome, and he was sure he’d have to repeat it again the next day. Life was so much easier when he didn’t have quite so many responsibilities, but he wouldn’t trade them for anything, even if he’d have to give them up soon anyway.
Waking up early, a little before dawn like he normally did, David tried to slip out of bed as unobtrusively as possible. He managed to get out before he woke anyone, and headed downstairs, intending to get the coffee started, at least. He accomplished that, and managed to wash his face in the sink, enjoying his brief solitude.
“Hey, Dad. I see you got the coffee started, what can I do to help?”
“You can beat some eggs for a huge omelet. With this many people we’ll have to make a bunch of them, but we’ll probably go through most of our egg supply. Remind me to pick up more today.”
They both set to work, with Alice preparing the eggs while David got the rest of the materials, as well as starting the stove to prepare the sausages.
“Hmm, smells good down here. If I’d waited a little while longer I could have enjoyed some of your delicious breakfast, but then I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Ellen said in greeting as she wrapped her arms around David and gave him a serious good morning kiss.
“Good morning, Ellen. I’m fixing eggs. You can help me mix the other ingredients while Dad fixes the sausages,” Alice suggested as she spoke to Ellen’s back.
“Sure thing, sweetie. I just wanted to ensure your father is awake enough to get the job done this morning,” she answered. “You know, it’s nice having this time by ourselves in the morning.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t last. Everyone has been getting up earlier and earlier. Chances are the others will be down in—”
“Hey, I see I’m not the only early morning riser around here,” Maggie said as she entered the kitchen. “Do I get one of those wonderful good morning kisses to go with my coffee, too?”
David didn’t answer, simply pouring and handing her a cup of coffee while giving her a warning look. She knew better than forcing the issue, but she blew him a kiss in thanks as she accepted it.
“Hey, I thought I heard you people up here,” Bob said as he too entered the kitchen.
“Hey, Bob, I’ll pour you some coffee. I see you’ve been up for a while. Anything new in the world we should know about?”
“Yeah, being blind as long as I have, your circadian rhythms gets screwed up, so it’s hard to sleep through the night. That’s why I get up at odd times. But yeah, there’s quite a bit of new news. I was just talking with Mary about what’s happening at the hospital.
“As I told you, they’re worried about an outbreak of a new disease, so they tried to implement a sort of ad-hoc isolation ward,” he said, sitting at the counter and accepting a coffee from David. “Unfortunately, while the people supposedly suffering from it went along initially, they grew bored when the hospital staff didn’t do anything other than stick them into a room by themselves to see if anything happened to them. They basically got frustrated, then angry, finally said they had more important things to do, and that they were each heading home to their families where they were needed.”
“Yeah, I can see that happening,” David said. “After all, they don’t have any laws allowing them to keep them there, so they’re free to leave whenever they desire.”
“Yeah, there’s no laws concerning quarantining of otherwise healthy individuals,” Bob replied. “In fact, there aren’t even any laws concerning doing it in general. It would take an emergency act of Congress, which is unlikely at the moment. A lot of places have declared States of Emergency, which would give them the ability to institute it, but they’re already getting so much push-back about it they’re not likely to attempt forcing the issue over something that’s not even a problem yet. Especially since the Federal government in D.C. is already trying to quash the free expression of people’s ideas, for fear it’ll topple an already fragile government.”
“I’d hate to have to try to get a new government started after the fiasco they’ve found themselves in,” David observed.
“So far, what the hospital has done has been on its own. The problem is that as soon as those people walk out the door, the hospital loses any ability to track the spread of the disease. If they get sick and go to a private doctor, they’d have no way of knowing about it. There are no requirements for private doctors to notify anyone about the cases of individual patients, and there’re also a whole slew of laws on the books to prevent it. What laws there are specify contacting either the CDC or the federal and state governmental bodies, which is no longer even possible.”
“But there’s nothing to be concerned about at the moment, right?” Ellen asked. “After all, they’re only showing some minor symptoms so far. As far as anyone knows, it’s just a passing thing that their immune systems may already be able to handle, given enough time to adjust to it.”
“That’s what it looks like. It’s largely a nonissue to everyone other than the few hospitals that are worrying about what may happen if they don’t get ahead of it. As it is, they really don’t have the personnel to follow up on it anyway. The large number of injuries following the meteor showers have them stretched pretty thin, so a full time quarantine of a bunch of healthy individuals really isn’t justified.”
“So how’s Ma getting along?” Linda asked as she entered the room, trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes.
“Oh, she’s going well. She has some latitude to check on these types of things, since she’s now the hospital’s communications director. She’s the one talking to the other medical experts and other hospitals. Chances are no one else realizes there might be an issue, since communications are so bad at the moment. Right now she’s doing more work on the radios I supplied her with than she’s doing on the floor.”
“Hey, are we too late for breakfast?” asked Caity, as she led a bunch of bleary eyed girls down. That effectively ended the discussion, as everyone focused on cooking, eating and plans for the day.
“Oh, before I forget, David, Sheriff Adams radioed in and wants to see Flora today if you can arrange it,” Bob mentioned. “He wants her to check out a couple of questionable bridges for him. He said he may call on her again over the next several days to also check on a few questionable buildings, as well. If you’re agreeable, he’d like me to call him when you’re ready to head out, so he can meet you there so you don’t have to waste a lot of time meeting him at the police department.”
David glanced at Flora, who’d come down with the other girls. “How about it, Flora? You feel up to starting work as a Structural Engineer today?”
“Gee, I’m not sure. I’m really not qualified yet. I mean, I’ve got a decent understanding of what’s involved, but I don’t have any practical experience or any certificates yet. I haven’t passed my PE tests, yet. What’s more, I’d need to do an analysis of core samples to make a real determination, and no one has those facilities anymore.”
“I think the Sheriff is aware of that. But since there’s a shortage of qualified personnel handy at the moment, he’s asking for you to help him out until he can schedule someone to do the work officially,” David explained. “He just wants you to see if you can determine how stressed it appears to be until he can get someone out here to do a full examination.”
“I’d love to help,” she said, “just as long as he understands my limitations.”
“I’ll convey that,” Bob said. “I’m sure he’s already taken that into account.
“Maggie, you should probably take the girls over to your home today. I’d promised your husband some help repairing his house. With a bunch of you, hopefully he can at least limit any further damage. I don’t know if we can quite ‘make it livable’ yet, but we can surely do more than he’s been able to do so far.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” she answered. “And thanks for always looking out for us. It’ll be nice knowing I’ll have a home to return to when this is all over.”
It took a while to get organized, since everyone wanted to accompany David and Flora, seeing as it may be the last time they could spend much time with him. David was only taking Flora and Alice with him. Flora because she was the reason for the trip, and Alice just in case they needed an extra hand with anything they encountered. He sent the rest with Maggie and Ellen, and sent Linda to stock up on supplies with Caitlyn and Julie, while Erica was tasked with watching out for Bobby. He grumbled that he was fine on his own, and had been living on his own for a long time, but relented when David explained it was primarily so the girls could learn what he did, since they’d need to know how to do it if no one could repair the communications systems.
David was glad that Reggie had requested his help, since there really wasn’t anything else that needed to be done around the property. Keeping that many kids busy, especially once they learned how to work efficiently together, took a fair amount of scheduling.
On the way to meet the Sheriff they saw a lot of improvements; houses repaired, people getting back to normal, more shops opened, but there were still problems. There were more stopped cars, these apparently halted by the unavailability of gasoline, or other reasons rather than from damage from outer space. David, being resourceful, had access to a small battery powered pump. He’d taken to visiting closed gas stations and, with the assistance of those with him, they’d lift the lid on the underground tanks, snake a hose down and pump the gas out themselves. He always made sure to leave a note with some cash in it under the door to the station each time, but he didn’t know what others would think of what he was doing.
When they reached their meeting point, a bridge spanning two sides of a river along the freeway, Benjamin Adams welcomed them warmly.
“Hey, thanks for doing this for me. I know it’s been a while since you offered to do this, but, well, there have been a lot of distractions.”
“You realize I’m not really qualified to do this. I don’t have any—”
“Don’t worry, Flora. I realize your position. However, the people we’d normally use for this just aren’t available, so we’re trying to do the best we can. Most of the professionals in this region either have another house in the city, were visiting someone when the disaster struck, or they were injured and haven’t been able to return.
“We’re not looking for any official statement here. You’re name won’t be listed on any government forms, though I can write you a letter of recommendation after this is over. All I’m looking for is a better estimate on the safety of these structures than I can guess by looking at them myself. On the one hand I’m responsible for keeping people safe, but on the other, people are currently suffering so much that shutting down a major thoroughfare connecting nearby communities would hurt people a lot. So I’m not anxious to close anything down unnecessarily.”
This statement struck those listening personally, since each one thought of both Sara and Betts, considering what may have happened to her. Flora accepted her new role seriously, once he acknowledged he wasn’t expecting too much from her, and she got busy examining the damaged portions of the bridge.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” David asked while she was busy, “we’re planning on heading into the city tomorrow, so I wanted to know what you knew of how safe the roads are.”
“Well, to be honest, not many people are making the trip. But I’ll tell you this, it’s very problematic. You won’t be able to drive 75 mph the entire way like you normally can. 4-wheel drive might get you over some portions, but if you hit a sinkhole or a serious pothole while driving too fast, you’ll be toast. An SUV won’t keep you from trashing your suspension. I think that’s happened to a lot of people, so I’d be careful, as the roads will be littered with broken down cars. Some communities have been clearing the cars away from the roads, but that depends upon them having the tools, namely a working tow truck from a functional garage and the time to dedicate to it, but most communities haven’t quite gotten to it yet.”
“Good, I’ll keep it in mind. But you’ve heard from people who have made the trip? I mean, I’m not going to get part way there and find there’s no way to complete the trip, am I?”
“No, it seems clear, but you may have to go off road and drive around obstructions occasionally. As I said, the roads are a mess. I’ve gotten some road crews to make repairs, both to the local roads in town and also to the freeway, on promises I’ll recoup them when we get the government gets back on its feet. After all, the vehicles to do the repairs are usually better protected than most cars, and the technology is pretty old and established. But like I said, we’re only willing to go so far in helping people who aren’t connected to the community, so we aren’t going to head very far out of town making repairs at our own expense. I don’t think you’ll see the roads repaired for years.”
“I also notice there are more cars abandoned by the sides of the road. How are people managing to get around?”
“Alas, most aren’t. I’m guessing most used the last of the gas in their tanks to get to the stores and stock up, and now they’re holed up at home trying to get by. Those that run out often run dry halfway to the store to buy more supplies. Since we have little electric service, there really aren’t any gas stations near here. I’ll give you the name of one off the interstate a little farther down that has power, but they’re liable to run out of gasoline soon, as everyone is relying on them.
“We’ve been using one station ourselves for our police vehicles. It’s closed, but we’ve got a manual pump we use. That’s how we’ve also been filling our portable generators. I personally woke the owner and asked his permission to do this, and he said to go ahead. He told me he’d just check the levels in the gas tank and bill me for what we’d used once he came back online. After all, he can’t make any money just leaving the gas in the ground, and as you know, gas left lying idle for too long goes bad anyway.”
“Well, Sheriff,” Flora said when she climbed back up to the road’s surface again, “the road looks good. The damage you noticed doesn’t seem to be a problem. The punctures through the steel structure are clean. They didn’t stress or distort the materials themselves, so they shouldn’t impair the safety of the bridge. Normally what one looks for in these types of structural problems are the little things. Thus one doesn’t look at rust, but at how the many bolts are holding up. It only takes a little latitude on several bolts to put a whole segment of the structure at risk. But in this case we’re only talking about a couple of impacts, and each was relatively small.
“Now I can’t help you with the damage to the surface of the bridge, or in making it any more drivable than it is, but it’s safe to use as long as you can get over it.”
“Good, that’s what I was hoping for,” he told her. “I’ve posted warning signs on either side of the bridge, but frankly, if anyone gets this far they should already know what kind of shape the roads are in. Now that I know it’s safe, I’ll have the road crew work on it to try to fix the bigger potholes.”
“Are there any others you’d like us to look at?” David asked.
“There are a LOT I’d like you to look at for me,” Ben told him. “It’ll likely take several days to cover them all, and then I’d like her to examine several buildings as well. I’ll take the time to take you around today, but I’ll assign one of the other officers to accompany you the other days.”
“Is that OK with you, Flora?” David asked. She nodded, so he turned to the Sheriff. “I’m going to be heading into the city to check up on the people we have there, but Flora and several others will be here, and I’m sure they can help out.”
“Good, now let’s move on so we can check out the other sites.”
“Man, it’s good to get home,” Alice announced as they walked in the door that evening. “That guy took us all over the place.”
“I take it you had a rough day?” Ellen asked, as she welcomed David home with a kiss.
“Oh, Flora had a wonderful time. She was busy working the entire time. Dad did well too, since he and the sheriff were busy talking the whole time. But I didn’t have anything to do, so I ended up wandering around the whole time.”
“Well, you really can’t expect to be in the center of things all the time,” Ellen reminded her.
“We have been, up until now,” she countered. “We’ve been there, every step of the way, helping out, rescuing people, cleaning up and repairing things. But there just wasn’t anything for me to do today. I really should have gone with you guys. How were the repairs?”
“They went well,” Maggie answered, having overheard her complaints. “We made sure there weren’t any leaks, and we patched all the holes and made sure nothing inside the house had been damaged, and then we straightened up a bit, since Reggie hasn’t been home to clean up. There was dust everywhere.”
“So maybe it was better I didn’t go along,” Alice answered, showing how little she thought of household chores.
“Hey, I’ve got something for you to do,” Linda called from the other room. “How about you finish the vegetables?”
Alice grumbled the entire way into the kitchen as the others followed along behind.
“So how’d you do today?” Ellen asked Flora, which caused David to do a double take, since she’d already asked Alice the same thing.
“Actually, I was so busy the whole day I never had a chance to try anything. Benjamin really had a lot of stuff he wanted me to look at.”
David was going to comment when Bob spoke up from the counter. “I’ve been waiting for you, there’s plenty of new information today.”
“Do tell?” David asked, refocusing his attention.
“Mary called from the hospital. Remember those people that left quarantine last night?” When David acknowleged he did, Bob continued. “Well, they never came back, but several of one man’s neighbors did, reinforcing the idea that it’s contagious. The same thing was reported by other hospitals, and the local police chief assigned two officers to stay in the hospital to enforce a quarantine. Unfortunately, when people enter the hospital with what they suspect might be a viral illness; they take one look at the officer and head in the opposite direction. So they’re in a no-win situation. They eventually had to hide the officers in the cafeteria, where they ate up most of the available coffee and donuts. But I suspect the police department assigned them because their police cars were incapacitated in the meteor storm.”
“Is there any evidence it’s more serious than just a vague unease?” Ellen asked.
“Well, there have been a few reports of deaths from it across the country. Still not enough to set off any alarm bells, but because it’s happened to a watched group, the hospitals are taking notice. They’re trying to take precautions, but as you can see, those very precautions might just prevent anyone from approaching them.”
“Yeah, and if there’s not a crisis, no one is going to force the issue by issuing a general alert,” David observed. He considered the topic a moment. “So, there weren’t any deaths from it at Ma’s hospital, were there?”
“No, there weren’t. But we have no way of knowing what his neighbors told him when they returned home. They may have decided to keep him at home, so if he did die, neither the hospital nor the authorities would ever know about it.”
“Yeah, they haven’t been able to keep up with the many deaths from the meteor storm yet. There are still bodies scattered around that haven’t been discovered yet. No one is likely to notice if he doesn’t show up, if there’s no job for him to go to.”
Dinner that night was a busy affair, with everyone vying for David’s attention since they were all aware he wouldn’t be there the next day. They discussed who he was going to take with him. He suggested just taking Sara, but Ellen pointed out that would leave them exposed if anything happened to him, and that she’d appreciate it if he had someone else with him, another adult, preferably.
David then suggested they take the others girls home, which produced mixed reactions. None of the girls were anxious to leave, but they were worried about their families yet didn’t want to be left behind either. However Maggie suggested they’d be better there under supervision until they knew what the situation at home was. They all agreed to that, but that left who was going to accompany David and Sara.
“It doesn’t really make sense taking Ellen with you,” Linda pointed out. “After all, it’ll take at least a couple of adults here to keep track of things. A couple of adults who can see what troubles the kids are getting into, that is. No offense, Bob,” she added.
“None taken,” he answered.
“I think a better option is to leave Ellen, Maggie and Bob here, and I’ll travel with you. After all, I know where everyone lives, I know the people, and I know the local community. You’d be at a disadvantage on your own.”
There was more discussion following that, but that was what they eventually decided on.
The rest of the evening was much the same, with everyone trying to spend as much time with David as they could. The girls spent a lot of time with Sara, trying to alleviate her concerns, and Alice spent a lot of time with her mother, since she felt safe that she’d see her father soon anyway. But the other girls weren’t as convinced they’d have that much of a future at his house, so they weren’t as sure as she was.
Once again he insisted on an early bedtime, so they’d be ready to head off early the next morning. Although everyone complained, no one resisted. David ended up spending the night with Ellen, and no one disturbed them that time. They spend a lot of time enjoying their privacy and reinforcing their love and their dedication to each other.
As he was settling off to sleep, David considered what he was about to undertake. He had no way of even knowing if Betts was still around. If she’d had an accident along the road, as the sheriff has suggested, she’d have likely gone to a nearby community, which they’d have no way of knowing about. On the other hand, if something had happened to her, he didn’t know how he’d handle it and Sara. Either way, he’d likely end up having to counsel her, and he didn’t think he’d be able to make her feel better if she didn’t know what happened to her mother. Basically, it was another no-win situation. But he didn’t see any way that he could avoid it.
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