However, with the night drawing to an end and no sight of her, he is worried — not so much for Sandra but about what she may have stirred up if the two-legged ones survive. Her not arriving may indicate that she and her pack didn’t make it.

Before the night begins to turn to the blue-gray of the impending dawn, several of Sandra’s pack begins to arrive — small groups arriving sporadically, and then a stream of them come into view and enter the lair. The flow trickles until the area is clear with no sign of Sandra. The sky shows the first hint of the night ending and Michael proceeds inside.

Calling one of Sandra’s leaders to his side, he “hears” the story of what happened. At first he is incredulous, but that is quickly followed by a deep, burning anger associated with hatred. He knew Sandra was a problem and should have killed her right away. The two-legged ones will search them out relentlessly and strike back. He’s still not sure what that thing is in the sky that rains down death, but he knows it’s associated with the two-legged ones — knows it for sure. The pack can’t fight that thing and he wonders if he has placed his pack far enough away.

He sends the leader off to rest and thinks about going after Sandra. He doesn’t know what that will accomplish, but it will keep her from creating new problems. For now…he’ll wait. Michael isn’t sure where she is and doesn’t want to waste time searching for her, especially if she’s close to the two-legged lair. He doesn’t want to expose the pack in that manner. They are safe for the moment and have food. He wishes he had been with her to make sure all of the two-legged ones were killed. That would make survival for the pack so much easier. If he could curse her, he would. Enough have filtered back that she isn’t a direct threat to his pack, but her actions could threaten them all.

He can’t figure out why she would capture one of their females. It just doesn’t make sense. It couldn’t be to set a trap to lure them out of their lair; she was already in it.  And why didn’t she kill them all when she had the chance?  Michael emits a low, menacing growl at the lost opportunity, Sandra going against his orders, and the increased danger that the pack now faces. If he sees her again, even though she is with a young one, he will kill her.

Just Another Day

The night is a replay of the night before…and many others prior when we’ve been out. Rising none-too- rested from the continual shrieks haunting the night at intervals — some close and others in the distance — I watch as the sun crests the horizon, its orange glow bathing the cockpit with a warm radiance. It does, however, bring a lonely feeling as we are in the middle of nowhere with no one around. It’s another day on the road and I want nothing more than to find the soldiers’ families and go home. The satellite phone remains silent as I try repeatedly to call back to base and reach Leonard.

We step outside for a breath of fresh air before starting on another leg of our journey. Ellsworth AFB lies a little over four hundred miles to the southeast so we’ll only have a little more than an hour in the air. Then it’s on to Sturgis where we hope to find a family safe and secure. Robert and I verify the data in the flight computer while we down a bite to eat. After checking that our cargo is secure, we run through the start-up procedures. The engines fill the aircraft with its familiar droning and vibration.

We lift off into the early morning sun and turn to the southeast, leaving the city of Great Falls to the night runners. We climb above the hills in the east and across a plain that stretches to the foothills of Yellowstone to the south. Billings, a town I’ve passed through a few times when on road trips out this way, comes into view to our right. The rugged mountains and hills of Yellowstone pass off our right wing in the distance. The park itself is surrounded by a ring of steep ridge lines and deep valleys that look like fractures radiating out from a central core — which they are.

Robert has the controls as we leave the last of the great mountains behind and cross into the rolling hills of Wyoming. Looking down at the roadways across some of the most sparsely populated areas of the country, I reminisce about some of the good times I had crossing that lonely state in the Challenger. I made short work of that state as I traversed the long stretches of highway in the back country. With a sigh, I pull my thoughts back into the cockpit and help Robert with the checklists for landing.

The rolling hills make way for the Black Hills which then open to high plains. As we descend, the ground below is the same brown color as Idaho. I can see that it was once agricultural land, but the only green now resides close to the few streams which run through the area. Ellsworth is a small base lying to the northeast of Rapid City.

If I remember correctly, this was a strategic base housing part of the bomber fleet; so if there is anyone still there, they are not going to like us arriving out of the blue. I did that once at a SAC base with an emergency landing and…well, let’s just say I didn’t enjoy the feel of biting the searing hot pavement. Needless to say, SAC bases didn’t — and don’t — enjoy unscheduled landings, even military ones.

Robert levels us off a couple of thousand feet above the ground and maneuvers so we can cut across the base. This will bring about a prompt response from any base security still in existence, but I do not want to be surprised like at Mountain Home. The other fact is that, if anyone is around, we’d have been on radar for some time now and we’d have heard that wonderful high-pitched tone of a radar lock.

Coming across the single, long runway, I see a few B-1 bombers parked on a side ramp near what must be the wing and base operations buildings. If I only knew the systems and how to fly one of those, we’d make short work of the night runners in our area, I think as we pass over the hangars and other ramp buildings. We soon pass over the small base and set up to circle around. There are only a few structures but nothing moves amongst them. Passing north of the base and over the bunkers situated there, Robert begins a shallow descent to make another pass at a lower altitude.

With a closer view, I see that deep sand drifts are piled against many of the buildings and the streets are partially covered as nature begins to take over. Looking at the roads, I don’t see any sign of tracks which matches with the lack of movement. I open up to see if I can sense any night runners but come up empty. I mean, there isn’t anything I can ‘see’ at all. If there are any around, they are well hidden.

“Take us over the city,” I say to Robert, pointing in the direction of Rapid City.

He brings us around and we head toward the town paralleling I-90. The city is mostly urban and appears much like Grand Rapids — residential neighborhoods sitting among brown fields and empty streets. I sense several packs of night runners in scattered pockets below as we pass back and forth across the city. Although not as much as with the base buildings, there is sand piled against several of the outlying structures. Looking for survivors, I don’t spot anything that would indicate that any are still alive. From every indication, it appears to be a dead city.

Sturgis, our eventual destination, lies about thirty miles to the north-northwest. We have time and I’d like to get a look at the layout of the city, so I direct Robert in that direction. The interstate that we follow lies at the foot of the rugged terrain that is The Black Hills. Much of the ridge lines on the eastern edges are still green with evergreen trees but the interior has turned brown. The only exceptions are thin lines of green still within the deep draws and along the small waterways snaking their way through the steep topography.

It’s a short flight and we are soon upon the town that is the home of the annual summer motorcycle rally. The city itself sits astride the interstate with a mostly residential neighborhood at the southern end and downtown area to the north. The actual city proper is made up of larger buildings sitting astride a main street and is about five blocks long.

The soldier, whose parents and sister hopefully lie safe and secure below, is in the cockpit and points out his family’s house in a residential block just a short distance away from downtown. There are a couple of entrances to the town from the highway and, from my vantage point, it really doesn’t look like any one of them offers any advantages for entering the city. The other team members take turns looking out of the windows to get a layout of the town. Making a low pass over our intended ‘target’, there isn’t an indication of anyone below nor do I sense any night runners. The scene passing under us doesn’t give any promising signs of life, but the lack of night runners, or at least my lack of sensing any, lends a positive note.

Back at Ellsworth AFB, we make a low approach along the runway. I note that it’s not just the streets that are covered with sand blown in from the adjacent fields. The runway itself is covered in grit to the point that the

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