Sunday, August 11, 2013

Robbie Rocket

Sorry about that, folks,” Robbie Rocket said. “Just let me say this much – don't get the regular flu in the middle of the zombie epidemic, or things will really get rough and gross. All better now, generator's up and running again, I've got some music queued up for you this evening while I sleep – again – but first, the news.

I don't know how many of us are left. I don't know how many of us there are here in the Twin Cities. I don't know how many of the rioters remain, either.

I do know there's a storm hitting the Cities as I speak; I hope you are bundled up and prepared and I wish I had been well in time to warn you.

What I am hearing from Las Vegas – the only city I have contact with this evening – is that there are about 900 survivors down there, mostly holed up at the Hoover Dam, of all places. That's 900 of about half a million, not including visitors.” Robbie Rocket was silent for a moment. Inside the commander's house, more than a thousand miles away from the destruction of Las Vegas, Eve, Will, and Katrin lowered their heads.

Val rocked slowly back and forth in place in his wheelchair, his helicopter on his lap, grizzled Cassiopeia asleep wedged against his thigh. He had no strong understanding of what Robbie Rocket was talking about.

I'm told they have a military presence at the Dam. I have not spoken to anyone in the military there, but I am told there's about twenty soldiers lead by a previously retired lieutenant. I hope to speak to one of the members of the military there and find out if they have continuing contact with other groups.

But tonight, I have not heard from my previous contacts. I have not heard from Duluth. I have not heard from Chicago. I have not heard from North Dakota. And I have not heard from our nation's capital.”

There was another moment of silence.

But I am still here, and you are still here. My friend Gary is still here, and still annoying. He says he has a few survivors in his building, and a few more he's heard from; we are not divulging locations today but I wanted you to know we are still here, that there are more of us, and that we're making plans to help survivors find each other.

And now, I'm recovering from the flu, the plain old regular flu that doesn't make you a crazy cannibal, and I am exhausted. So here's some music for a stormy evening, starting with Katrina and the Waves, because I damn well need to hear something cheerful, and I'm betting you do too. Good night, Twin Cities, my home, my neighbors, my brothers and sisters.”

I love this song!” Val squealed, rocking faster.

Katrin wanted to sleep with her mother, but decided against doing so even though she was still afraid of the storm.  Eve looked worn out, blue circles beneath her eyes, and her pain was apparent. Katrin worried about bumping her mother's bitten arm, or her broken arm, or the sore ankle.

Will gave his mother more ibuprofen and helped her get settled on the newly thickly padded master bed; then he helped Val into bed in the nursery.

Look,” he told Katrin, showing her the deep window wells. “Very thick walls, and heavy wooden shutters. It's safer here even in a storm than our basement out there was. You'll be ok.”

I need Bertram,” Katrin said.

Will tucked his siblings into the double bed in the nursery, Katrin near the wall and Val closer to the commode, and tucked the stuffed tiger in between them. The cats arranged themselves near the siblings' heads.

I wish Todd was here,” Katrin said forlornly.

Todd comin',” Val said.

I do too,” Will said. In an unexpected moment of paternal-like feeling, he kissed his siblings on the head. “Goodnight, brats.”

Goodnight, jerk,” Katrin said affectionately, her eyes already drifting closed.

Goodnight... ASSteroid,” Val said, and giggled out loud, tilting his head back.

Doggone it, Val...”

Upstairs, in one of the attic rooms, Will had found a four poster bed with ropes where there'd be a box spring in a regular modern bed. This room was nearly empty (and the one like it at the other end of the attic was empty), with just one dormer window. There were a few small decorations – hatboxes, a suitcase, a navy and white bedspread – and a single dormer window. Will padded the double bed with his extra mattress from the previous night in the hospital ward; the mattresses here at the Fort were all relatively hard and uncomfortable to his modern tastes. He'd covered the mattress with a wool blanket and then a softer quilt for insulation, then piled more blankets on top to lay beneath for warmth. There was no fireplace up here, but heat rises, so he suspected he'd be warm enough.

If he wasn't, he'd drag the mattresses back down to the parlor and sleep there tonight.

In the pale light of his battery-powered LED camping lantern, he checked his watch and found it was time to talk to Gary. Only 9 o'clock; usually his mother would be up late into the night and he and Val would only now be getting sleepy.

He turned on the walkie talkie.

Gary?” he asked.

Young William!” Gary's voice boomed. He sounded perhaps a little tipsy. “I was hoping to hear from you tonight. How's your mother and family?”

Mom's doing all right. The kids are asleep. How are you?”

Staying warm enough. I've got a few other survivors here, and my living room has a gas fireplace. We've got food, and candles, all that. It's not really cold enough yet for the snow to stick around, but it's makin' it plenty clear we need to get moving over there for the winter.”

There's plenty of room here,” Will said. “And we have a medic. We're low on food, though, for a crowd.”

Check, check. I'm sending three young people over as soon as the snow melts after the storm. We have food and supplies – they brought some, and they'll stop at Lunds on the way over. And they have some archery supplies as well. Guns too, but we learned today that gunshots bring the infected running.”

Ok. We'll be ready. When should I check in again?”

Let's ping each other every odd hour of daylight once the snow starts melting, ok? Then I can let you know when they're heading over. They have bikes, and I'm sending them over the Ford Parkway bridge, then south to the Fort.”

When will you come?”

I saw Benjamin today. I'll come as soon as that asshole cat comes in so I can bring him with. I have a snowmobile in my garage so I'm not too worried about the snow if it comes back before Benjamin stops being stupid.”

Do you know Robbie Rocket?” Will asked.

We talk now and then. He's not as stupid as Benjamin.”

Will laughed. “Goodnight, Gary!”

Goodnight, Wilfred, Champion of Snelling!”

Just Will,” he said, but there was no answer; Gary had turned off his set.

Val felt the storm subside and woke in the quiet pre-dawn. The fire was low, coals only, but the room was still warm enough. He swung his feet carefully over the edge of the bed, holding onto the tall post near his pillow to help himself up. He used the mantle of the fireplace to help him get over to the commode. While on the commode – never all that concerned about privacy – he pulled open the shutters.

The sky was just turning pink to the east, and the ground outside was white and smooth.

Snow!” he said, cheerfully. “Snow came.”

He couldn't retie his pants after he was finished, so he kicked them off and used his wheelchair as a walker, holding on to the handles and pushing it, thin legs bare beneath the bottom of the long shirt.

Val sat on the edge of his mother's bed.

Hungry, Mama,” he said, patting her. “Your boy hungry.”

Heat radiated off of her.

You like oven,” he told her, smiling. “Silly Mama.” He sat next to her for a while, rocking in place, then wobbled over to open her shutters. She woke when he sat down next to her again.

Not feeling so hot, little man,” she told him, shivering. “Let me sleep a little longer.”

Hungry, Mama.”

Ok. Get your sister. Tell her to get Will up and have him come here.”

You get Will?”

Have Katrin get Will, please, Val.”

Katrin was not happy to be woken up, Will even less so, but he blearily came to see his mother, rubbing his eyes, his hair sticking up in the back.

Do the fires,” she said weakly. “Give them some bread and butter for breakfast, please. Not feeling well right now. My arm hurts. Not the broken one, the bitten one.”

Concerned, Will felt his mother's head and found her feverish. “Mom, you are really warm. I'm going to go get Mr Joe.”

She managed to level a glare at him, one eyed, her face half-buried in her pillow yet. “You make sure they're fed and warm first, Will. I mean it.”

He dithered for a moment, then gave Eve some ibuprofen and a glass of water. As quickly as he could, he got the fires set up in the downstairs rooms to warm the house and fed his siblings and the cats in the dining room. He helped Val back into his pants and tied them in place.

I wear no pants!” Val said, laughing at his brother.

Too cold for that, Val, doggone it,” Will said sternly.

By the time Will got over to Mr Joe's room, the sun was making a clear appearance over the horizon. The air itself was crisp and felt thin, and the snow just deep enough that Will's shoes were filled with it and his feet icy.

Joe answered his polite but urgent knock.

My mom has a fever,” Will said.

Damn it,” Joe said. “I'll be there soon. Let me get dressed and get my supplies. Meanwhile, here.” He handed Will a shovel.

Will held the shovel in both hands, confused. He wasn't a medic, but he couldn't figure out how to use the shovel to help his mother.

Shovel a path, boy,” Joe said, exasperated. “I'll meet you there.”

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