“Have you ever seen the goons’ headquarters buildings, Arn?”
“Only from a distance. We’re not allowed to get any closer than the fields. Before I worked at the end of the field where we work now, I worked an area that was almost across from the buildings.”
“How many buildings are there?”
“Two or three. I’m not sure. From my vantage point I wasn’t sure if two of the structures are connected or if they’re separate buildings.”
“How did those buildings survive when the rest of the city was reduced to rubble?”
“I can answer that question for you Tammy,” McKaren interrupted.“When the planet was sinking into chaos and human society began falling apart, a band of revolutionaries seized the buildings, heavily armed them and defended them from everyone else.
“When the population of the city fled as bands of outlaws were seizing the city and destroying everything they could not carry away, those who controlled the buildings that still stand convinced the raiders to leave them alone.”
“How did they do that, McKaren?” I asked.
“They possess superior weaponry, mounted atop two of the buildings. Their weaponry can vaporize a tank or an airplane at a distance of several miles. The surrounding area is constantly monitored for anything that could be a threat. These days, there are no threats, but the weaponry is still viable.”
“Is that stuff going to blow us out of the air, McKaren?” Arn asked.
“We’re invisible to it, unless we choose to make ourselves visible.”
“Why would we do that, McKaren?” I asked.
“Only so you can see our capabilities,” McKaren answered.
“Let’s see the rest of the city first, then the buildings,” I instructed McKaren.
We crisscrossed the city working a grid, flying no more than ten feet off the ground. Other than our tree, and the shacks where the workers reported to pick up and turn in their equipment and to get their evening meal of slime soup, nothing remained standing that was taller than three or four feet.
We saw no signs of life. Perhaps Prune Face and the cooks who worked the other shacks were holed up in their little shacks, but everyone else had disappeared. Presumably they would reappear from under when the siren signaling soup time sounded, but at the present time we could see no one.
“There’s really not much to see is there, Arn? I can’t imagine how any of you survived. Why is there a group of you here? Is it because the goons have their headquarters buildings here?”
“That could be part of it Tammy. But remember what I told you about the building that converts the seawater to usable water. It’s on the other side of the mountain. Without it, there would be no plants and probably no settlement.”
“You are correct, Arn,” McKaren added. “The desalination plant provides the water that keeps the food plants alive to provide the major source of food for the planet.”
“Are you saying those weeds feed everyone on the planet?” I asked.
“Yes,” McKaren answered. “They provide over eighty percent of the food for the inhabitants of the planet.”
“Do you know how many people are still living on the planet?” I asked.
“Yes, I have that information, Tammy. At this time, there are three thousand eight hundred ninety six people on the planet,” McKaren informed me.
“How do you know that?” Arn asked.
“Gramps arranged to have several small moving observation modules do a daily count of the number of inhabitants,” McKaren answered.
“I’ve never seen those modules,” Arn countered.
“But they have seen you Arn.”
“Spies in the sky?” Arn asked.
“Something like that, McKaren answered. “Not really spies, but monitors. Very small monitors not visible to your eyes, monitors that keep track of surface conditions, where people are and that sort of thing.”
The Desalination Plant
“Can you take us to see the desalination plant?” I asked McKaren. “Let’s do that before we look at the headquarters buildings.”
“I can and I will.”
We left our position near the ground and rapidly climbed until we were just below the clouds, then headed toward the mountains. I could see the goon’s buildings below us to our left and then what appeared to be totally barren landscape as we approached and then crossed over the mountain range.
McKaren banked left and descended between two low ridges that ran to the water’s edge. Tucked between the ridges and the mountains was a sprawling building, connected to the ocean by two large pipes.
“How did the guys who blew up the city miss this place?” I asked.
“Apparently no one told them it was here,” Arn answered.
“Good answer, Arn,” McKaren commented. “You are correct. No one told them it was here. Since there was nothing else out here and since this was not the city’s only source of water, they did not know the plant was here.
“The revolutionaries knew, but they didn’t tell the invaders. The revolutionaries shut down the plant and stopped the water flowing to the city until they had gained control of the city and everyone else had left.”
“Can we get a closer look at the ocean, McKaren?” I asked.
McKaren veered slightly to the right and soon we were hovering just a few feet above the water, about one hundred feet from the shore. What I thought I had noticed as we had descended to get a closer look at the desalination plant was confirmed – The water was not quite blue, but instead had a slight brownish tinge.
“Am I seeing things, or is the water a little brown?” I asked.
“It’s brown,” Arn answered.
“Caused by the many catastrophes that have happened to this planet, especially in the past thirty seven years,” McKaren added.
“What happened?” I asked.
“That is a very long explanation, Tammy,” McKaren answered. “You may ask more about that when we are back in Gramps’ workshop, as you call it. Now we should move back to the planet’s administrative buildings so you may see them before dark.”
McKaren turned and we began to ascend over the mountain.
“I get the feeling this isn’t the first time you’ve seen this, Arn. You didn’t seem surprised the ocean is brown instead of blue.”
Arn shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Well, you see, I’ve been told….”
“You can tell Tammy,” McKaren interrupted. “We have no secrets, Arn. I know you’ve crossed the mountain.”
“You’ve crossed the mountain, Arn? How? When?” I demanded to know.
“One of those rainy days. I hiked over the mountain, saw the water processing building and walked down to the edge of the water. It tastes awful. I had to walk all the way back to the shack to get a drink of decent water.”
“What else have you done on the rainy days?” I asked.
“Mostly looked around and spent the time in my basement hideout reading. There isn’t anywhere else I could get to by walking. I stayed away from the goon’s buildings because I didn’t want them to see me anywhere near them.”
The Revolutionaries’ Headquarters
“Now is your opportunity to get a close up view.” McKaren offered as we descended and approached the buildings. “Not much to see, but you can see what you’ve been missing.”
One of the buildings was old, probably built in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Although it looked like stone, I guessed it was really concrete, judging from the missing chunks. High windows revealed rooms with high ceilings, probably twelve feet high. Wide, chipped steps on the front of the building led up to massive doors which appeared to have been added at a later date to help fortify the building. The building was coated with filth and grime.
The first floor windows had been permanently boarded over. The windows on the second, third and fourth levels were glass. McKaren approached several windows and hovered a few feet away from them. We could see offices through some of the windows. People sat at desks. Other rooms appeared to be used for storage of a variety of mostly uninteresting junk.
McKaren took us to the top of the building, which was covered by rows of what appeared to be cannons attached to equipment I did not recognize.
“Are these the weapons the revolutionaries used to defend themselves against the invaders?” I asked.
“They are. Each weapon is capable of rotating three hundred sixty degrees, and the barrel can point almost straight down, straight up and everywhere in between,” McKaren answered.
“I’ve never seen this,” Arn commented. “I couldn’t see these from the ground.”
“Nor have you seen them discharged,” McKaren pointed out. “However, we will soon remedy that.”
“Are you saying they’re going to blast us?” I asked.
“We won’t allow that to happen, Tammy,” McKaren responded.
We moved to the smallest of the three buildings, which sat closer to the mountain than the two larger buildings, and almost between them when seen looking at them from the fields. The building was rectangular, approximately two stories high and had no windows. A moderately tall, large smokestack was attached to the west end of the building.
The age of the building was indeterminate, but also appeared to be constructed of poured concrete. Like the older building, it too appeared filthy.
“What is this building?” Arn asked.
“It contains the power generator,” McKaren answered. The buildings and the weaponry require large amounts of power. The revolutionaries converted the building to its present use.”
“What powers it?” Arn asked.
“There’s a large natural gas field underground. A line directly from the gas field emerges inside the building. The generators in the building produce more than enough power for the three buildings and all the weaponry.” McKaren answered.
“Interesting,” I commented. “Now tell us about the third building.”
Housing and Greenhouse
McKaren moved us closer to the building, a one story square building, with a glassed-in two story structure atop it. Atop that structure was a larger, six-barreled version of the weaponry we had seen atop the oldest building.
“Those cannons are big mothers, McKaren” I pointed out.
“Yes, they can vaporize anything on land or in the air up to twelve miles away.”
“Can they take out an incoming missile?” I asked.
“They could if there were any missiles remaining on the planet that could be activated.”
“There are no missiles remaining on the planet?” I asked.
“None that can be activated.” McKaren answered.
“What is the purpose of the glassed-in structure below the weapons?” Arn asked.
“It houses their greenhouse, where they grow food plants for the people who work in these buildings.”
“The goons don’t eat weed soup like the rest of us?” Arn exclaimed.
“There have been problems with growing plants in the greenhouse. If you will notice, cloth is hung near the top of the structure and partially down the sides. The interior of the structure tends to get even hotter than the outdoor temperature, since there is no air cooling equipment, making it difficult to grow most plants. The cloth helps hold down the interior temperature.
“Since the plants are protected from the hot wind and blowing dust, the revolutionaries found several plants that can be grown in the structure. They also eat weed soup, but theirs is supplemented with several additional vegetables.”
What is the Mystery Meat?
“Do they eat meat?” Arn asked.
“There are extremely limited supplies of meat on the planet. There is one settlement in the far north that is able to raise a small number of animals. That settlement gets water from what little remains of the polar ice cap. They can raise some animals and plants to feed them and their animals.”
“Who gets the meat?” Arn asked.
“Everyone does. As you would guess, the revolutionaries get the best pieces, and the remaining parts are cut into small pieces which you occasionally receive in your soup.”
“It’s not chopped up dead people?” I asked.
“No. Dead people are taken away from the settlements and laid on the dry earth. Their bodies dry and become almost mummified in a matter of days. There are no predators.”
“Why doesn’t someone bury them?”
“The revolutionaries consider it a waste of resources. The soil where the bodies are taken is very hard, and would be very difficult to dig, almost impossible to do by hand. There are few remaining machines that could dig the graves, and the machines and fuel are kept in reserve for what are considered critical jobs.”
McKaren slowly circled the greenhouse. Between the hanging cloth and the dirt on the windows, we could barely see what was inside, although we thought we could see plants.
We descended to the lowest level of the building.
“What’s in here, McKaren?” I asked.
“This section is the living quarters for the revolutionaries. It is a dormitory of sorts. Since the revolutionaries administrative headquarters are here, these quarters house the leaders of the revolutionaries. The quarters are adequate, but not elaborate by the standards you would know, Tammy.”
“Sounds much better than sleeping outdoors on the hard ground,” Arn chimed in.
“Yes, the accommodations are much better than sleeping on the ground. You are only a worker, Arn. The revolutionaries have no place to house you, but need you to keep the plants alive that feed the planet.”
We circled behind the building topped with the greenhouse, behind the power-generating building, and moved near the southwest corner of the oldest building.
The Goons Have Aircraft?
“What is the large flat area to our right used for, McKaren?” Arn asked. “It almost looks like it has been covered with street-covering materials.”
“Yes, it has been blacktopped. It is a survivor from before the chaos and is not in the best condition. However, it still serves as a landing area for the few aircraft that managed to survive.”
“Aircraft?” Arn asked. “I’ve never seen aircraft.”
“They arrive irregularly, and only in the middle of the night, when the winds are light. The engines on the aircraft tend to have problems with the excessive blowing dust and sand. The aircraft bring necessary supplies to this city in exchange for crates of plant leaves, which are then distributed to the other settlements on the planet”
“It would seem like a waste to fly greens around the world, McKaren. Are the settlements all near here?” I asked.
“Most are within a few hundred miles of here. There is one settlement far north, the settlement that raises animals. There are a cluster of settlements in Asia that are completely independent from those in North America.”
“Do the revolutionaries run those settlements?” I asked.
“Another group of revolutionaries control those settlements, settlements similar to this one, settlements that have found ways to survive the final years of the human race.”
“The human race will soon end, McKaren? Seriously?” I asked.
“Yes, it will, Tammy. The last person will die in less than thirty years.”
“Is there a solution, McKaren?” Arn asked.
“Going forward, no. There is no solution. The solution lies elsewhere.
“Where does it lie, McKaren?” Arn asked.
Nine Seconds to Live
“In the past.”
We slowly moved to an area near the front of the building and turned to face the building.
“I am now decloaking to see if the revolutionaries are still monitoring the area.” McKaren stated. ” Tammy, you are now in complete control.”
“Are you crazy?” I exclaimed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Just do what comes natural. We are being scanned. Three cannons have just been activated and will discharge in nine seconds.”
“What the shit do I do?” I screamed.
Then it happened.