Authors: Orion Enzo Gaudio
It had been a long night, most of the men were restless, and Sutherland hadn’t slept at all. As the first rays of light crested the horizon, they packed up and moved out of the house.
“Sir,” Avery said, “what’s the plan?”
Sutherland took one last look at the house that had been their camp overnight as they walked toward the road.
“We need to find some kind of transportation. How far away is the bunker?”
“I looked at the map quickly this morning… so I’m not exactly sure, but if I had to guess, I would say a little less than two hundred miles by road.”
They were closer than Sutherland had guessed, but two hundred miles might as well be a thousand if they couldn’t find some cars… not to mention they were up against the clock.
Before they departed Sutherland had briefed his men, telling them their first task was to find some transportation.
The men turned right at the main road and split up so half were covering the left side and half the right. Sutherland walked in the back on the left side and focused on watching behind them. The whole experience at the Minneapolis airport had put all the men on edge, which Sutherland knew wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
After walking for ten minutes the road curved to the left and it marked the end of the row of houses. Sutherland hadn’t seen any cars parked in front of the houses they passed and most of them looked as abandoned as the one they had spent the night in.
Sutherland turned to Avery, who had crossed the street. The young man seemed so eager to help… and kind of reminded Sutherland of himself when he was younger, albeit he thought Avery was a hell of a lot crazier than he ever was.
“I… I’m really sorry about crashing the plane last night, Sir.”
“No, you don’t need to apologize for that. You did the best you possibly could and you kept all of us alive and safe. That’s all I could have asked of you.”
Avery smiled and nodded. It was clear he was happy for the praise, but Sutherland could see it ran deeper… there was something about Avery that he really liked. Sutherland felt bad in that moment… he knew there were young men and women like Avery in each of the bunkers spread across the country.
That moment was what it took for Sutherland to realize the true error of his ways. He had been so focused on finding Cynthia and Nicole that he had forgotten the oath he took. He swore to defend the United States against all enemies… that was what he had devoted his life to. Sutherland realized that just because Section M had bastardized the country didn’t mean the people weren’t still Americans at heart.
The road veered to the right and intersected with a four lane road. There were a few cars parked along the road, several with their doors still open. Sutherland shook his head at the sight… it was like people had just left their cars and ran.
Sutherland turned to his right as one of the men approached.
“It looks like there’s a school bus around that corner… permission to go check it out.”
Sutherland nodded. Avery tagged along with the man and they disappeared around the corner. The remainder of the men formed a rough circle with their weapons covering every possible assault angle. Sutherland had a sick feeling in his stomach… he wasn’t sure why, but he felt like something was wrong.
He let out a sigh when the silence of a still world was broken by the sound of an engine turning over. The men turned and watched as the faded yellow of a school bus came into view with Avery behind the wheel. Sutherland smiled at the young man as he parked the bus, opened the door and waited for the men to climb on.
Sutherland waited at the front until Avery closed the door. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure his men were seated and he nodded to Avery. They reached the edge of the small town in just a few minutes, still seeing not a living soul. Sutherland wondered if maybe everyone had fled to Pierre, or perhaps the government had evacuated people.
At the edge of town there was a gas station on their right. It looked as old as the neighborhood station just down the street from where Sutherland grew up. He tapped Avery on the shoulder and pointed toward the station. Avery took the cue, slowed the bus down and turned into the station.
“How much gas do we have Avery?” Sutherland said.
“A little over half a tank.”
“Any idea how far that’ll take us?”
“Eh… no… not really. I mean, given the weight and engine size of a school bus… I would say it won’t be enough.”
Sutherland nodded and turned around to face the men. He always hated asking highly trained soldiers to do what he considered to be menial tasks… it just didn’t sit right with him, but he knew they were going to need fuel.
“I need three volunteers to get us some fuel.”
Three hands shot up before he could even finish his sentence. Sutherland felt like Rodgers had done an admirable job picking out men for the mission and for the first time he had a feeling she would be fine running district one without him until they made it back.
The three men jumped up, dropped their gear on their seats and approached the front of the bus carrying only their rifles.
“See if you can find some gas cans… or maybe an empty barrel,” Sutherland said. “Hopefully there will still be some gas in the tanks. If there’s some kind of rubber tubing or something to siphon the gas out with. Also… grab anything else you see that might be of use… we’ve got plenty of room in the back of the bus.”
The men nodded. Avery opened the door and Sutherland stood aside as the men shifted their rifles and climbed down the narrow stairs. Sutherland sighed… he knew it was a little weird, but the image of them walking off the bus reminded him of watching Nicole climb onto the bus for her first day of school.
Sutherland sat down on the empty seat behind Avery, who turned around, and watched the men walk toward the station. He turned his attention when Avery cleared his throat.
“I… permission to speak freely, Sir?”
“I… I was wondering why you volunteered to be the Regent of district one. I would assume you have a family, but I haven’t seen them or heard anyone talking about civilians in the bunker.”
Sutherland nodded and looked down at the floor. He focused on the grooves in the floor as he tried to keep himself together.
“Sorry,” Avery said, “I… I spoke out of turn.”
Sutherland swallowed, shook his head and looked back at the young man who clearly understood there was a reason for why his commander was so affected by talk of his family.
“It’s… it’s fine. You wouldn’t have known. I… I do have a family. A wife, Cynthia, and a daughter… Nicole. They… they were at home when the second attack took place….”
Sutherland froze and turned his head. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he heard something… and so did the rest of the men. Everyone opened their windows and held their breath as they listened in unison. It was a low rumble… and it was getting closer with each passing second. Sutherland wasn’t sure what it was, but there was something about it that made him ill at ease.
“Avery, go get the men… tell them we have to leave now.”
Avery nodded and darted down the stairs and toward the station.
“Men… I don’t know what’s coming, but get ready.”
They nodded and checked their rifles as they readied for combat. Sutherland truly hoped it didn’t come to that… they were responsible for maintaining what little there was left of the United States, and he didn’t want there to be any collateral damage.
Sutherland looked toward the station as Avery came running out with a small gas can, followed by the three soldiers who each carried a gas can in each hand. Sutherland sat down as the men took the stairs two at a time and Avery fired the school bus up and closed the door. He slammed his foot onto the gas and wrestled with the wheel as they drove over the curb and bounced their way back onto the main road.
“What is it, Sir?”
Sutherland shook his head, stood up and walked to the back of the bus. He could feel the eyes of his men following him… his world slowed down as he approached the rear window and looked out. He didn’t see anything at first, but when he blinked there was a blur in the distance. Sutherland blinked again and the shapes started to take form.
He shook his head. It wasn’t ideal… that was for sure. Sutherland took one last look behind them and ran toward the front of the bus.
“Avery… how far are we from the bunker?”
Avery pointed out the front window of the bus. Sutherland looked and saw the green sign with white letters
“Sir? What is it?”
“Well… unless this bus can go a lot faster we might be in trouble.”
“That sound… I’m afraid it’s likely the sound of death. We just have to wait and see if it’s going to be ours or theirs.”
Thank you for reading
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Orion Gaudio lives in Northern California and splits his free time between playing video games and praying for rain. He spent most of his youth in Colorado, which provides the setting for most of his books.