The next morning dawns bright with a chill in the air. It promises a warm day by noon but there is a distinct difference in the temperature. There is also a noticeable change in the daylight hours. We are definitely on our way to the short fall season and winter lies not far behind. Lynn gives a quick brief to the soldiers with regards to the delayed departure to find their families but promises it is only a short one. There are a few sighs of exasperation but they take it in stride for the most part. I think they are mostly happy that we are still going to make the effort. I can, however, sense a restlessness among those selected to go as if each day decreases the odds of locating their families. Which, of course, it does but we need to absolutely ensure we are safe and viable through the winter.

Our morning run and training passes quickly. The people in training phase one enters the bright day to begin their training. A myriad of activity begins in the parking lot as groups head off to their tasks for the day. The throaty sound of semis starting pervades the atmosphere. Soldiers climb into Humvees to provide escort for the trucks or to safeguard the continued building of walls around the McChord housing and Fort Lewis vehicle maintenance areas. The plan is to build the walls first, clear the areas, and install skylights in the buildings so we can to deny night runners the ability to reside within.

I shower to clean the sweat and grime from the morning’s training and have a quick bite before speaking with Craig about training in the 130. He is quite amenable to the idea. He already has numerous hours flying so the transition shouldn’t take too long. The window of being able to fly is quickly closing which will definitely limit our range and abilities to reach out over a greater distance. This doesn’t concern me greatly but it will still be a limiting factor. The idea that we’ll have three pilots who can fly the 130 also brings my goal of using an AC-130 closer to a reality. I ask if he wouldn’t mind accompanying me on the morning helicopter run to search for survivors. That way, we’ll drop off at McChord afterwards and begin flight training.

Craig and I strap into the Kiowa, run through the checks, and begin spooling the rotors up. The trucks have already left the compound on their tasks so the sound of the helicopter starting overrides the other noises in the area; the shouts accompanying the groups training and the pounding in the distance as people continue working on the stables and buildings. The rotors work up into a blur launching dust and small pieces of debris outwards.

The skids go light and we take off into the blue-skied morning. Frank has us working the area to the northeast of the bases with a planned meeting point where Highway 512 joins with I-5. The task of eventually covering the entire area is a vast one but we’ll take it one area at a time and do the best we can. We’ll hit the places Frank opts for daily until Craig becomes proficient and we can head to the southwest. Upon returning, we’ll continue searching other areas on days we can until we have either covered the entire western area of Washington or we run out of flying time. The smooth air of the morning is a blessing as we point north, overfly the bases, and begin broadcasting. The thought arises that we’ll have to see about different living quarters soon as we continue to bring in survivors.

We fly over the region sending our message to ears that can hopefully hear it and respond.

Craig takes a few turns on the Kiowa which he handles well. Handles well, that is, if he was attempting to mimic a roller coaster ride. It’s not that I’m that much better though. We finish with our coverage, radio to let Frank know we’ve finished, and park next to the pair of 130’s sitting on the transient ramp.

We step in through the crew entrance of the C-130. I begin covering the systems to acquaint Craig with the triple redundancy of the aircraft and we strap into the seats. I’ll cover the flight engineer tasks which will slow us with most activities. We taxi out and begin our run down the runway. Lifting off into the clear day, we bank around to the south watching the glory that is Mount Rainier swing through our windshield. The sun gleams off its snow- topped peak. Continuing south, we claw for altitude. I chose south so we can combine training with a search for livestock.

Craig takes control of the aircraft as we drone through the sky; the glistening waters of the Puget Sound off to our right. We practice the basics which Craig quickly gets the hang of and start running through emergencies. Taking a break from training, we look around Olympia for any livestock. I know of some areas that had cattle before our situation changed so drastically. Descending to get a better look, I take us around fields in the outlying areas. Dark spots dot the first pastures we find. Circling, it becomes apparent that the dark spots are unmoving cows lying in the grassy fields.

Descending further, the mutilations become clear. Most of the meat has been removed leaving the cattle just a pile of bones wrapped in hides. It is quite apparent the night runners have visited here.

“Well, I’m guessing any fields close to cities aren’t going to yield us much,” I say over the intercom and we expand our search.

“Kinda looks that way,” Craig responds with his eyes still glued to the devastated cows below us.

I want to ask Craig what took him so long getting here but leave that to a time of his own choosing. I’m sure Lynn has already asked that question and about her other family members but she hasn’t shared the story as yet. That leads me to believe it doesn’t have a happy ending attached to it. We continue our search in ever expanding arcs away from the city only to find similar circumstances. The thought of the long time between everything happening and now also leads me to believe we won’t find many chickens still alive either. Even if the night runners haven’t found them, they will have starved in their coops unless they were allowed to roam.

“Let’s try further south along I-5,” I suggest after flying over the fifth field full of dead, mutilated cattle. “I know there were a lot of ranches along the road and it may be far enough away from populations that night runners may be scarce.”

“Sounds good,” Craig replies.

We fly over the low-lying, forested hills south of Olympia and pick up I-5 on the other side. Turning south, we sweep out of the hills and over flatter, grassy plains. The ranches I remember were alongside the highway so we parallel it. It isn’t long before I pick up the shape of cattle in grass fields surrounded by acres of fencing. There are indeed some motionless shapes in the tall grass but we also find an equal number of standing cattle in some pastures. The fields where there is still standing water has the greatest number of those still alive while those where the water was pumped into troughs, and are subsequently dry, are filled with the motionless, dark shapes. I radio back to base to update Frank and Bannerman on our find and give the locations.

“Copy that, Jack. I’ll talk to Bannerman about finding some cattle trailers and directing some trucks down that way,” Frank answers. I glance at the various fields with their associated buildings.

“Frank, I see some cattle trailers on some of these ranches. We could just drive the tractors down and hook up to the ones here,” I radio.

“Sounds good. I’ll talk to Bannerman and get back to you.”

“Okay. We’re going to continue here for a while and then head back your way,” I reply.

“We’ll be looking for ya,” Frank says.

Craig and I fly on getting acquainted with the controls and systems before heading back for touch-and-go’s. He is used to smaller jet aircraft so it takes a while to get the hang of flaring higher but he eventually becomes proficient getting us down without requiring a chiropractor or possible back surgery. I’m sure the aircraft is thankful as well. We finish up the day, hop over to refuel the helicopter, and head back to base. It definitely won’t take too long for Craig to become proficient and we’ll be able to head to the southwest.

I would like to have another pilot trained as we’ll have only three pilots and one flight engineer to spread between two aircraft normally needing four pilots and two engineers. My thought is to have Robert, Craig, and Bri in this 130 and I’ll fly the AC version back myself. We’ll fly in formation in case of trouble but flying a 130 alone is not something I really want to tackle. It’ll be a constant flurry of arms and elbows. It can be done if nothing goes wrong but the after take-off checks and pre-landing checks will get a little sporty. Maybe I’ll bring Gonzalez along on subsequent training flights and have her train with Bri. I would try and train Gonzalez myself but training two people at once might result in turning the 130 into a fast falling brick. That is definitely not a flight characteristic I’m interested in experiencing.

With the sun lowering into the western sky, we skirt low over I-5 heading south to Cabela’s. Below us is a small convoy of trucks and Humvees heading in the same direction; their tasks complete for the day. It’s another day with our walls around the housing areas and vehicle sheds a little further along. From the number of trucks below us, I am guessing Frank and Bannerman decided to gather the livestock tomorrow. There is a comfort seeing the trail of vehicles, knowing we are still alive to see another day, and that our plans are approaching some sort of fruition. We survived the initial surprise and onslaught to find a relative peace and security in the evenings. We’re not there by a long shot but we are a day closer. That is if there is such a thing as a point of arrival and if the night runners behave.

The nightly meeting is a recap of the day’s events. Bannerman relates progress on the buildings which are

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