top of him and the agony. Chunks of flesh are torn from his cheeks and throat. A part of his mind wonders where this odd, vivid dream came from. He has never felt pain in his dreams before. Another part of his mind knows this is not a dream but the confusion of suddenly being in a foreign place doesn’t allow that thought to filter into his consciousness. There is only the struggle and intense agony.

He feels another strip of flesh ripped from his face. He screams and pain, colored red, floods his mind. His vision fades and then goes dark. He was right about one thing, the pack would feed well tonight.

The next few days are a repeat. Frank notes areas for Craig and me to fly over broadcasting for survivors. Gonzalez, McCafferty, Bri, and Robert are on board for the daily 130 flights. Bri instructs both Gonzalez and McCafferty on the systems and flight engineer responsibilities. Robert takes some stick time as well to refresh his skills.

Bannerman sends the truck convoys south to pick up the trailers and livestock we found. The learning curve is pretty steep for getting the cattle rounded up and into the trucks. It’s not like they could just call “here boy” and have them come running. The crews find some horses that were left out in pastures and those prove useful in rounding up the cattle, at least according to the stories told around dinner. The horses find a home in the stables as well. There weren’t many found as those in the stalls had already succumbed to starvation, lack of water, or in some instances, night runners.

By the end of the week, our pastures have livestock in them. Bannerman also sent trucks to loot the barns of their hay and feed. The barns, stables, and greenhouses have been completed and the crews head north again to begin again on the walls. Bannerman also sends a detail out to look at a water tower and begins planning for its relocation if that is at all possible. Craig, Gonzalez, and McCafferty are now fairly proficient with the 130 operations. It’s time to head to the southwest and we excuse ourselves from the nightly training sessions to plan our flight.

A Meeting Remembered

“Well, isn’t that interesting?” I say plotting our route. Robert, Craig, Bri, Gonzalez, McCafferty, and I are gathered in a semi-circle.

“What’s that?” Robert asks looking up from the map.

“Nothing much really. Just that Tacoma, Boise, Salt Lake City, and our far end destination of Lubbock are in a nearly straight line. Similar to those mathematical lines of the pyramids and Stonehenge. Only, not meaning the same,” I say. “However, they will make it easy to verify our inertial navigation system.”

“Aren’t we going to use the GPS?” Robert asks.

“We’ll set up the route with both but I’m not sure the satellites are still in the right position with no one to keep them there. We’ll do some verifications enroute though,” I answer.

“Can we set up the same approaches?” He continues.

“Well, it depends on what we see on the way. The inertial nav system on board is highly accurate but it certainly isn’t near what a GPS is, especially if there’s a lot of turbulence, but we’ll see. There’s a pretty good chance of encountering severe weather once we hit New Mexico. If I remember correctly, the dry line sits right on the New Mexico-Texas border and the time is right for thunderstorms. The squall lines along there can grow quickly and are usually prevalent during the afternoon and evenings. We’ll have to plan alternate fields along the way as I’m not at all keen on flying through them on inertial nav alone, especially if we have to shoot an approach. Plus, I really hate flying through thunderstorms,” I reply.

“I remember the ones we flew through on the way to Kuwait were plenty scary,” Bri chimes in.

“Yeah, and those were gerbil ones compared to what the south and southwest can spawn. And I use the word spawn correctly. It’s like comparing a paper cut to being molested with a chain saw,” I say.

We finish planning our almost 1,600 mile trip plotting alternate airfields along the way. Horace and Greg join us after the evening training session and I go over the route with them. This is so they will have some situational awareness in case we have one of those unplanned contacts with the ground — read crash. That way they’ll have some idea about where we are or at least a clue of where we are supposed to be. I’ll keep them updated on our progress. It will take us about four hours to get to Canon AFB depending on the winds. I have no way of calculating the winds aloft for our trip but we’ll have plenty of gas. We can fly there and back with what we’ll have onboard.

I wake just before first light. I’m not all that keen on leaving my warm sleeping bag. I feel like rolling over and giving the flight a later start but the image of towering cumulus clouds enters my foggy mind. The thought of wading our way through the dark masses spurs me off my cot. Well, spur isn’t exactly the correct word but I rise nonetheless holding my tired head in my hands for a moment before slipping my feet into my boots. Lynn stirs beside me and sits in a like manner.

“You don’t have to get up, hon,” I say wearily tying my laces.

“Yeah, right. Who’s going to make sure you get your boots on the right foot?” She answers sounding as tired as I feel. I glance down to make sure I do have my boots on correctly. Yep, good to go. “Besides, I’d feel bad if I didn’t see you off.”

There’s only the faint stirring of images floating in my mind and I shove them off to a corner. I hear the faint movement of others in cubicles across the upper floor. Leaning over, I kiss Lynn on the top of her head as she slowly does up the laces in her boots.

“You know I love you, right?” I say.

“Yeah, Jack, I love you too,” she responds looking up.

I can see how tired she is. Not just the tired of waking early but the kind that prolonged time without rest and stress can bring. I positively cannot wait until we reach a place where our stress levels are lowered and wonder if that can really ever be again. With a sigh, I rise and grab my already packed duffle bag. Pushing the curtain aside, I see that several others who are accompanying us have gathered at one of the large tables downstairs. Horace and Blue Team are making their way down the escalator with bags in hand. I wait by our cubicle entrance for Lynn, take her hand and we walk in silence down to where the others have gathered.

Craig is gathering the last of our planning notes and the maps; putting rubber bands around the approaches into the Canon AFB and the other fields we’ve selected as alternates. He puts these neatly into a large leather publication case. The closure of the snaps is loud in the still interior and has a finality to it. It also signals it’s our time to go. We look through peep holes drilled into the security shutters and open them when we see that all is clear.

The morning is painted in a blue-gray shade, portending the coming of the sun and another day. High clouds are showing a touch of orange on their eastern edges. Stepping out into the parking lot, a morning breeze rustles against our clothing bringing a chill to the air. The vehicles sit quietly in the parking lot as if waiting for the coming dawn as well; their darkened shapes still. I hate to break the absolute silence that only the time just before the sun breaks over the horizon can bring. With the sun comes the noise of our little slice of mankind awakening. I want to just stand and take in the stillness but I know we have to be on our way. High clouds give an indication that our route may not be clear all of the way. The team members make their way slowly across the lot; their steps showing the tiredness we all feel. Reaching the four Humvees we plan on taking, they begin tossing in their gear. It will be a cramped ride up to the base with us and the gear in only four of the vehicles but it’s only a short ride. We’ll leave two on the ramp and load two in the 130.

Robert and Bri come out and stand with Lynn and I. Bri rubs her eyes trying to vanquish some of the sleep she brought with her.

“Good morning, Dad,” she says having little success in dispelling her sleepiness.

“Morning, Bri,” I reply. Robert is sleepy as well and just nods in return.

“Robert, would you and Bri go get the helmets out of the helicopter?” I ask.

“Sure, Dad,” he responds and they make their way to the helicopter parked on the far side of the ramp.

Lynn and I stand at the edge of the entrance overhang watching the blue-gray of the morning turn to a lighter shade. There is such a peaceful atmosphere that I don’t want to shatter it with talk. I long for time to just stop and let us enjoy moments like this. This, however, is just not the nature of time. Its nature is the measure of movement

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