***Safehouse, West Virginia***
Dwayne Richmond focused on the monitor in front of him. He did his best to ignore the shooting pains down his leg. Most people did not realize that even when you were paralyzed, you still felt pain. He certainly hadn’t. Not until that damned helicopter blew up. But he had been the ‘lucky’ one. His friend Zach had not made it home to his family.
He closed his eyes and blew out a long breath. They didn’t have time for his shit right now. Dwayne realized he could not change the past. But he could still make a difference in the future. Daniel and Doc had given him that chance, and they needed him now. And that meant focusing on the present to provide the best opportunities for as many as possible.
“So, what were ya’ll able to find?”
“A lot less than we hoped,” Dwayne had stayed behind to work on planning and welcome new arrivals. Most of the other early arrivals had gone in all directions to Virginia, Kentucky, and around West Virginia, looking to restock this location and others.
“So, it’s begun already,” his old commander Daniel Monroe had been the one to recruit him to this band of crazzies. While they all respected and liked Doc, Dwayne had never really believed his theory. Yes, there were some bases in science for what the man said, but it just seemed too… Outrageous? Frightening? To be possible.
Brent Jacobs ran his hands through his hair as the red-headed woman behind him paced the room. Dr. Lauren Masters-Jacobs was the latest addition to the Regenesis team. “It’s to be expected. Fear of the unknown is an evolutionary advantage for the human species,” she attempted to soothe her husband, or maybe ex-husband was more accurate. Though the two were acting as if the divorce and last seven years never happened.
“We have to do something. And soon, Lauren. People have a right to know the truth and do their best to prepare.”
“Well, if the rest of the country is anything like around here, I don’t know how much good it will actually do. The bigger stores are almost empty of anything useful. And the smaller, local ones are already price gouging. Each of the safehouses along the route has supplies for fifty people for a month. But I don’t see how we can do much else at this point,” Dwayne wished he had better news for the man.
The man squeezed his fingers in his hair so tightly it looked painful. His wife placed her hand on his shoulder, “Brent, you did your best. Look at this place. It’s amazing. Let me remind you, this is not an extinction-level event. Humanity will survive. We have for a million years in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.”
A slow smile spread across the man’s face. He turned and scooped his wife into his arms and swung her around. “You’re brilliant, darlin.’ That’s it. We’re going about this all wrong. You always see what I’m missing.”
“I don’t understand. What did I say?”
Doc looked across the room at Daniel and Samuel Jackson, the security team for this project. “Lauren’s right; humanity has survived on this planet in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.”
“And they did it long before Wally-World and DeNile. Both of you trained for that kind of thing. I want you to work up plans. How can people make it through this? Short-term and long. And we need them by tomorrow. Daniel, anything from your man in D.C.?”
“No, and I expected to hear something by now. We know from the pilot that they landed safely and that Katie delivered the disk to Zane. But nothing since then.” The man did not say anything more, but Dwayne knew the look on his face enough to realize how worried Daniel was.
“Monique is in place in Los Angeles, Doc. Though, Jason says the plane is out of commission. At least for the foreseeable future. And before you say it, right now, finding another one isn’t feasible. No matter how much money you throw at it,” Samuel added.
“Dammit, we didn’t need that right now. We don’t have any safehouses west of Regenesis. So, how are we going to get Jason, Monique, and hopefully my stupid little brother back here?”
“Jason has been looking for a Humvee. But right now, with the whole world in panic and the government saying nothing meaningful…. Well, it ain’t going so well. Does your father have anything out that way we could use?”
“I don’t know. Maybe an old, abandoned gas field near Long Beach. But I don’t know if there is anything or anyone there. Have him rent or buy anything he can find. A van or truck if possible. Shit, I thought I had all the bases covered. Seven fucking years and it is all falling to pieces.”
The woman stepped closer and wrapped her arm around her husband, “Brent, you’ve done as much as you could. More than anyone else. Travis, Jason, and Monique are smart; they know where we are. They’ll find their way here.”
Doc nodded and squeezed her hand that rested on his shoulder before turning and looking directly into the video monitor. Dwayne felt his gaze and awaited his next orders, “I need you to make certain that communications stay up. No matter what.”
He heard the unspoken worry in those words. Daniel and Samuel had spoken with him about tightening security here too. While none of them wanted to believe it possible, there was always a chance that the government or other unknown forces might try to silence them.
“Tomorrow. Noon. Central time. I need us all ready to go. No matter what happens in D.C. or with Monique. We go public. And we need a survival plan to offer people. Dwayne, I need you to get that information into the hands of as many people as possible. How can we do that?”
Before he could answer, a lanky, red-haired teen stepped into camera view, “That’s easy, dad. Social media.”
Dwayne smiled; the girl had obviously inherited her parents’ intelligence. “She’s right. The most effective tool is going to be social media. They might blacklist us with the established media, but it would take time to get things taken down from social media. And even then, it never works.”
“Yeah, someone always makes a copy and shares it. Besides, dad, you’re already trending on InstantWatch.”
“Your theories. Those old papers. Someone has been sharing them as a plausible explanation for what’s happening. So, we just have to monopolize on that.”
Doc turned back to the video, “Is she right? Can we use this to get the word out to people?”
“Absolutely, it’s our best shot,” Dwayne winced as the pain shot down his leg. He did not have time for this shit right now. He had work to do. They needed to feed the buzz, build the momentum. Without being detected. The last thing they needed was to draw direct attention to them. Not quite yet anyway.
He felt the light touch on his shoulder and turned to gaze into the tight smile of the woman he loved. “Hey, Chloe, how’d it go?” He always worked hard to keep things in the friend’s zone. Even almost seven years after they lost Zach, he knew that the woman was still mourning. Besides, she deserved so much more than a half-man.
“We’ve finished inventorying the last of it. But even with the new supplies, the best we are looking at is four months. Six if we ration.”
This and the other safe houses along the route from the Eastern seaboard were never intended for anything more than brief stop-over points along the road to Regenesis. But now, with the influx of new and unexpected arrivals from Europe, plans were changing. And it was up to them to make this work.
“Doc’s new plan is to find old ways to survive. Foraging, maybe fishing and hunting in this area.”
She nodded her head; Chloe would know better than most. She had grown up not far from here. Her father and brothers had been part of a survivalist cult for decades. He knew that she still struggled with many of the strict religious teachings she had grown up with.
He was also privy to far more than just what she had shared with him. But the damage of those things went deep. He admired her for all she had endured in that misogynistic and racist world. He wouldn’t mind having a few words with her father, or better yet, having the man in the sight of his gun.
“That makes sense. I’ll check again to see what things we could use for seeds and the like. How cold should it get around here?”
“We don’t have to worry about that just yet. Temperatures won’t start to drop for at least a few months. Foraging is definitely important right now. But we need to be able to store that too.”
“Drying and canning, I’ve been doing it since before I could walk almost,” Dwayne reached up and squeezed her hand, giving her a reassuring smile.
Chloe nodded in gratitude, “The Lord has risen you up for this very purpose.” He saw the tears glistening in her eyes and knew that she was not in a good place any time Chloe was quoting the bible.
“We’re certainly glad for those skills, Chloe,” it was Daniel who reassured her now. But that didn’t surprise Dwayne. The man was a born leader, which meant he cared for each of those under his command. Even the widows, orphans, and cripples, long after he laid aside the uniform even. That was why Dwayne still followed the men.
“So, do we have a plan? Or at least know what we’re all doing? Daniel and Samuel, get me all you can find on survival skills. Things that people should know. Chloe, can you work with them? Give them input from a woman’s perspective.”
“Dwayne, can you work with my daughter on this social media shit? Make sure we reach as many people as we can. Tomorrow at noon. Until then, we can still rely on email, right?”
“Yeah, we should have technology for a while with this one. We just need to use that to our advantage,” Dwayne agreed.
“Okay, let’s get busy, folks.” The screen went black, and he drew Chloe into his lap. His hand covered hers.
“I always thought they were crazzy. All that end of the world stuff the preacher used to talk about on Sunday. When Zach got us out of there, I never imagined….” Tears were streaming down her face. She was trembling slightly.
Dwayne hugged her tighter. He knew more about the demons this woman was fighting than she realized. He had been Zach’s best friend and confidant. And he understood the depth of guilt that she carried. The mistakes she blamed herself for in their marriage.
As much as he loved his friend, as deep as his own guilt ran for the man’s death, Zach had not been perfect. Far from it. At least as a husband. The man had only furthered Chloe’s feelings of failure as a wife and a woman with his open affairs and sometimes cruel words. Yes, his friend might have gotten them both out of the cult they had grown up in, but many of those teachings had remained ingrained in Zach. And Chloe was still paying the price.
Before he could say anything more, a new pain shot through his temple and right eye, blurring his vision. He knew this one too. Dammit, he had forgotten to empty his catheter. He should have recognized the signs earlier. Autonomic dysreflexia was another reminder of his vulnerability.
His brain might be as good as ever. His upper body might even be better. Yes, he could still shoot and had retrained in other self-defense moves. But it was more than just not being able to walk. His paraplegia came with other issues that made him a potential liability in all this.
And the very last thing he wanted right now was another reminder of why he could never be the man she needed. “Hey, why don’t you check with Beth? Discuss Doc’s new plan and see what ya’ll come up with. I have a few things I need to get started on here.” Starting with emptying the damned bag of piss before he got worse. But she didn’t need to know that.
She half smiled and stood up. Dwayne’s fingers lingered on hers, “It’s going to be alright. Or as okay as it can be considering….”
“The world as we know it is coming to an end?” Chloe leaned down and kissed his cheek, “What would Thad and I have done without you?”
He let her fingers slip from his as he watched her walk away. Friend’s zone was his mantra. It had been for more than a decade now. Ever since Zach had been assigned to their team and introduced Dwayne to the woman, he would always love and could never have. First, because she was his best friend’s wife. Then because no matter what she said, he was not what she needed. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t kill or die to keep her and Thad safe. But for now, he had slightly less dramatic work to do. After he emptied that bag.