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Secrets of Liberty Mountain: No Man's Land (Chapter 38)
By
SkyWolf
SkyWolf
online

Secrets of Liberty Mountain: No Man's Land (Chapter 38)

Life abruptly changes when a homeless veteran stumbles upon a group of female survivalists.

I peeked past Sheila's shoulder as she looked over the semicircle of women from the Science Team gathered around Jennifer as the dark lady of data studied the computer screen in front of her workstation. Her fingers flew across the keyboard while she scanned hundreds of files, crunching numbers and extracting the data she needed.

The thirty-four-year-old Boston descendant of Zulu warriors became a legend within the Society as a math prodigy with an uncanny ability to ferret out hidden trends and meaningful information hiding in the shadows of bewildering numbers. 

As an ace statistician, she wore her African heritage with pride in the form of an exquisitely trimmed afro, worthy of any high-end fashion magazine. Like the forty-niners and prospectors of yore, she panned rivers of data in a relentless search for nuggets of golden truth. 

"We have no way to directly measure the strength of a solar storm. We know it was big, but we don't know how powerful," Jennifer said without turning away from her duties. Her slender black fingers were a shadowy blur as they danced across the keyboard. "Let's see what kind of footprints this critter left." 

Jennifer glanced over her shoulder and, for a moment, she locked eyes with mine and gave me a curious grin. I nodded my head and returned her smile as I recalled the sensual memory of inappropriate lust. Nice to see the memories were mutual. 

"We record and monitor the output of our solar array, twenty-four slash seven. Like a movie camera, the system takes a snapshot of the line voltage once a microsecond. I can manipulate the results dozens of different ways, including visually. I can turn it into a song, a movie, or a graph. Maybe the last string of numbers has something to tell us." 

She mouse-clicked the auto-save file and opened it in her Excel spreadsheet. A blizzard of numbers drifted across the monitor's screen before freezing in place at the end of the transmission. 

"Interesting, let's go visual." Two or three fast mouse clicks transformed the row of digits into a three-dimensional emerald green bar graph twinkling against a black background. 

"Ahh ha! Got it!" She whooped with glee as she zoomed to the final moments before the line went offline. 

"See?" she cried the instant the panels' flat-line trickle of sunset power started to spike. "In the final tenth of a second, we captured the first moments of the event." her long slender finger traced the nearly vertical slope of the bar graph. Death was not instantaneous; it took one-twentieth of a second for the line to die. The last five frames of our digital movie tell us a story. In that sliver of time, current surged from nine to over seventy volts." 

She pointed at the monitor. "Note, in these final images, or bars, the voltages are increasing at an exponential rate, nine volts, eighteen, thirty-six, seventy-two volts. My gut is telling me that ain't where it topped out. I have a guess the surge occurred more like a tsunami wave than a spike." 

She tapped her finger on the top of the last bar on the screen. "We need one more bit of evidence to finish the picture," 

A few moments and a dozen clicks later, the graph vanished beneath a dark-spectrum, false-color image of our solar system's central star as seen from the Solar and Hemispheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite orbiting the sun. 

"Let's see what the old lady was up to over the last twenty-four hours; we'll fast play the day in sixty seconds." 

She pushed start and we watched in morbid fascination as a few degrees beneath the equator, a collection of huge sunspots merged into one gigantic tempest, several dozen times the diameter of the Earth. A few seconds later, a massive chunk of the sun's surface vented into space as the new sunspot erupted in a brilliant M-Class flare. The tremendous flash momentarily overloaded and blinded the satellite's camera in a wash of white light. Nine minutes later the current from the array spiked as the burst of electromagnetic radiation slammed into the Earth's magnetic shield. 

"Big and fast. We were lucky; the plasma cloud mostly missed us." She advanced to a spike in strength fifteen hours later. "If it had been a direct hit rather than a passing blow, the network would have been seriously damaged." 

"Look! There's a second one," she yelped, when nineteen seconds into the video, eight hours real time, another flash of white light sparked into existence, ejecting billions of tons of celestial mass into space on a collision course with the earth. 

"X-Class is reserved for the strongest flares. It's a speedy little bastard. It hit us in nine point three hours later as an X-20," she shook her in disbelief. "Velocity and mass determine the strength of an event. The faster the particles travel, the higher is their kinetic energy when they collide with us.” 

She focused our attention on a third blip, three times as large as the previous spike. "That one made the grid wobble, but we didn't fall down. It's not the big one, no way close."

 Near the end of the broadcast, another enormous sunspot exploded in a flash which overwhelmed the satellites' capacity to process. 

Jennifer extended her arm and tapped the spike at the end of the feed from the collectors. "That there is our assassin." "Transit in five hours, fifty-two seconds." She hesitated and punched her keyboard and let out a long whistle. 

"The CME hit at over five-thousand miles a second, damn close to maximum theoretical velocity." It is improbable, but not impossible. Mass from each ejection struck us with at least a glancing blow. The killer hit us dead center along a pathway already cleared by the preceding two storms." 

The Zulu Number Warrior rose from her seat and turned to face us. 

"Net result? Three days ago was a Carrington Level Event times two. And the shit outside? It's at least an order of magnitude stronger than the last one," she murmured something which could have been a prayer in an African-sounding language. 

"Tech is dead. The first storm killed him. This one," she looked around, "this one is cremating the corpse." She paused, inhaled deeply, paused for a second, and shivered as a single tear streamed down her coal black cheek. "My dear friends, I fear the Gods of the SkyFire have stolen our future," she choked back a sob and turned away from us as her shoulders shook to the sound of weeping. 

"It only stole yesterday's tomorrow," Sheila thrust her clenched fist high above her head and roared like a lioness, "We are the future!" 

"Can I get an echo?" she called. 

"We are the future!" I howled as I hiked my paw above my head and my voice joined the defiant choirs. 

Count on the boss to turn bad news into a pep-rally. Crap! She was good. 

=^.^= 

On the morning of the seventh day, I was jolted out of bed by the sharp, bright notes of reveille echoing from the rafters of the great room. It took a dozen heartbeats and a deep breath to reconcile the martial medley with the time and place of now. Ahh, yes! Today I would be riding with the commander's search party. We were going into town to find Darlene and Serania. 

I opened my bedroom door as naked as a newborn and looked down from the balcony at the Society's Supply Officer as she allowed the final call to fade into silence before her cheeks puffed out and her face flushed purple as she sounded, CHARGE! The Colony's transition from civilian to a soldierly society was complete. 

"What happened to the pagan pipes?” I shouted down to Brenda. 

The Society's day usually began with a Celtic sounding something I had been told was a Wiccan chant for bounty and blessings. The boom-box that substituted for the dead speaker system was missing in action, replaced by a human. Fate favored us with a supply sergeant with a secondary MOS as a Company Bulger. 

"Our first mission deserves a proper send-off, don't ya think?" She smiled as she gave me a thumbs-up. 

"Great idea! Make it a tradition," I laughed. Start the day with a morale boost and a reminder we ain't in Kansas anymore. 

"Don't worry, looney tunes will back in the morning," she sent a playful note in my direction. 

I shaved and showered in a rush. I tend to leave on the installment plan. To avoid a return to quarters to recover a forgotten item of necessity I made a quick to-do list in my head of the personal junk I would need for three, or more days in the bush: three packs of smoke? Check. Disposable lighters? Check. Weed for a week? Check - no sense running short. Eyeglasses and microfiber cleaning cloth? Check. Change of socks and underwear? Double check. I'm good to go. 

I selected a functional wardrobe: camo cargo pants, an olive drab surplus army shirt with epaulets, and a pair of used Desert Storm combat boots wrapped up in a vintage M-60 government-issued field jacket. 

Standing before the full-length mirror, I repositioned the contraband eagle feather in the hatband of my brown fedora and gulped before I burst out laughing. Trick or treat anyone? 

On my way to the armory, I slipped into the kitchen. Caffeine is the genie in the Java. I warmed my hands as I rubbed Aladdin's mug, inhaled a fragrant cloud of coffee steam and wished the butterflies in my gut would go back to sleep. Pre-mission jitters; I didn't want to screw-up. 

 

 

=^.^= 

"Cutting it a bit close, aren't we?" 

Sheila nodded at the antique pendulum clock on the Armory wall as the second hand clicked to the twelve o'clock position and the 1890s era timepiece chimed the hour. 

I smiled and said nothing as I took my place beside my teammates. Barely on time lived in the twilight zone between punctuality and tardiness. At least I wasn't late. 

"Team, Ten-Hut!" barked the First Sergeant as she snapped her heels together and stood ramrod tall and presented the chief with the crisp salute of a veteran. 

I instinctively stiffened to attention as training and memory teleported me into the past. My mind was back in the Army again, and it felt like home. Almost like I had never left. 

"Stand easy and relax," Sheila returned the tribute as she checked her papers. 

"Standing Order Number One: effective immediately, the Society is under military protocol until further notice." 

"Aye, Aye!" I shouted in unison with my team. 

I glanced around the room and noticed my mix and match uniform didn't match the mix. Dressed in utility gray overalls and black baseball caps, the woman of the tribe could pass as a team of UPS drivers in training. There were no apparent signs of rank, but I noted Sheila was the only person wearing a french style black beret. 

"Thank you," the chief acknowledged as she raised her clipboard. "Today's mission and all future deployments will be conducted in the proper combat formation. From this point forward, Brenda will serve as QuarterMaster and Colony's First Sergeant," Sheila announced to a chorus of whoops and cheers, mine included. 

The butterflies in my gut rested their wings. Experienced officers and NCOs are the edges every unit needs. The lady knew her stuff. We were in good hands. 

"Thank you, Brenda," I whispered. 

"Today we'll get to try out the motor-bikes we picked-up in town last week," Sheila nodded to the newly minted First Sergeant who rolled an olive-drab Onex-80 with oversized tires for off-road travel. 

"This amazing device is a true hybrid propelled by human energy or petrol. At full throttle, the 80cc gasoline engine will do forty-five miles per hour, or better and can get hundred-twenty-five miles to the gallon, I wish we had gotten sixty instead of six." Her eyes misted as she gently caressed the camo-painted front fender. 

Brenda's soft spot for all things mechanical never ceased to amaze me. The story was she once was given one of those Swiss-army vibrators with more attachments than reason would allow. With a group of friends, she tested all the device's joy settings, came twenty times in sixteen minutes before the vibrator called it quits. The Little Sex-toy that Couldn't is hung today over her desk, mounted like a prize bass on a plaque inscribed, “R.I.P. Friend. It was a pleasure to know you.'” 

"Gracias, this will be fun," I muttered as I scrawled my name on the receipt and took possession of the Sisterhood's newest transportation toy. I omitted the part about wiping out on a sandy patch when my hairpin turn ended in a sideways slide into a stone wall. With the luck of the foolish, I left the scene in better shape my borrowed Harley. 

"Think you can handle it?" Brenda touched my arm and looked at me with concern. 

"No problem; back in high school, I delivered morning newspapers on a bike, uphill in both directions. Maybe a motor will reset the calendar," I examined the rig with a skeptical smile. Whatever, it was better than walking. 

"Ten-Hut!" the new First Sergeant's rumbling bellow smothered the excited chatter of new bike owners. 

"As you were," the leader gestured us to stand easy as she strode to the armor's oaken counter and hoisted a blackbody AR-15 over her black barretted head. 

"Armory call. Semi-automatics to those with military training. Belinda, and Sky, you'll be riding point, retrieve your weapons and mission kit from Brenda. Everyone else, follow me. We'll take our pick of the hunting rifles." Sheila preferred murderously accurate aimed fire to praying-and-spraying. 

"It's been a while since I've done any soldering. I might be a bit rusty," I shrugged as I took my weapon from the QuarterMaster's hands, and checked the safety as I pulled back the charging handle and examined the empty chamber. 

"Have you ever done point?" Belinda stuffed the spare mage into velcro pockets of her combat vest and tightened her harness. 

The weird homemade tactical garment had once been a three-hundred count Egyptian cotton bed sheet before it was modified with a blurry blend of forest green and slate gray with dark brown and black highlights which matched the natural colors of the Rocky Mountains. Above the tree line, the chameleon's colors resembled the lichen-covered rocks of the barren slopes. Within the woodlands, the same poncho hid the owner beneath a blend of forest shades and in a pinch could serve as a blanket or tent. 

"Point? Only once, back in D Troop, 5th Armored Cav. Army reserve active. Infantry assault on foot, it didn't end well." I checked the first aid pouch on my vest. The real deal with morphine. 

"Oh? Do tell," Frosty’s eyes widened before squinting with curiosity. Soldiers love to trade war stories. 

"We had a Second Lieutenant who, I swear, was the reincarnation of General Fuck-up Custer. He thought the most obvious line of attack would be the least defended. Wrong." I resealed the medical bag, adjusted my balance as I cinched up the straps of my tactical vest and slung my rifle over my shoulder. 

"How did that turn out?" Frosty's face melted into a knowing smile. 

"Not good. We got beat like a rented mule, so bad the brass stopped and restarted the war game," I snickered with a shiver. Combat is a deadly contest with no mercy for amateurs and no do-overs for losers. 

 

 

=^.^= 

"Recon One, clear," I straddled my machine and strained to hear my partner's voice was almost lost in a cloud of white noise. 

"Recon Two, copy. Moving," I replied before securing my handheld radio. 

I turned my head and looked at the chief fifty yards behind me. I tapped my wristwatch and held up my index finger, for one minute, and hand signed, 'Follow me," as I pointed to Frosty's place about one hundred yards up the rugged trail. 

The bike moved easily as I peddled to a brisk walking pace, twisted the throttle and released the clutch. The engine on the Onex's coughed into life. Equipped with a Sisterhood modified muffler, the eighty cubic centimeter motor chugged away, no louder than someone sneezing into a pillow. 

Advancing into potentially hostile territory against an unknown threat of unknown size is a constant trade-off between stealth, reconnaissance, and speed. The likelihood of encountering an armed advisory this time was remote; it takes more than a week without electricity and FaceBook to turn people into barbarians. My hunch was it would take at least a month before the facade of civilization would start to crumble. Meanwhile, we needed the training; practice becomes perfection. 

Our leapfrog tactics shifted with the mountain. Above the treeline, rocks and boulders offered more cover than concealment. 

"Clear," I called as I scanned our south-western sector of travel toward our next lily pad on the path toward town. 

Frosty thumped me on the side of my head with the open palm of her hand.  "Don't get sloppy. Do it right," 

"Easy, there ain't no one there," I rubbed the side of my head and straightened the tilted feather as I re-positioned my hat. 

"True," Belinda turned to me and studied my face. "But study the ground and get to know the terrain. Learn the land," she almost grinned as she poked my arm with her finger. 

"Yes, I get it. We will keep each other honest and do it by the manual. My bad," I conceded her point with a poke of my own as I lifted my binoculars to my eyes and did as my partner commanded. I learned the land and connected its contours and features to my memory. 

"Ahh, hum, take time but don't take forever," Frosty laughed. 

"Thanks. Point well taken," I chuckled. School might be out forever but this ain't no vacation. To stay alive, we needed to become like summer sparrows among falcons: always alert for threats from every quarter. 

 

 

=^.^= 

"We'll do a thirty-minute lunch at the next relay point. Clear and hold at the clump of trees." Sheila pointed to the summit of the saddleback ridge two-thousand-yards to the west of us. The crest of the long saddleback served as a natural causeway between the two misty valleys far below us on each side. It was the same place we had stopped for lunch the last time we went into town. 

"Thank God!" I sighed and wiped my forehead with my shirtsleeve and rubbed the sunburn on the back of my neck. 

I patted my partner's shoulder with a gentle shove. "Your turn." 

"Talley, ho!" Belinda laughed as she peddled and jumpstarted the bike's engine and raced toward the distant summit. 

I observed through my binoculars as she sped along the narrow path atop the rocky ridge-line and cringed. The foreshortening effect of the spy glasses made it appear she was riding along the edge of a granite razor-blade suspended a thousand feet above the river valleys on each side. 

My partner dismounted before she reached the summit of the rise and crawled to the crest and lifted her binoculars to her eyes. Suddenly, her posture changed, and she abruptly scrambled down the rocky incline, walkie-talkie in hand. My radio came alive with a burst of static, "Intruders...hiss...riders...crackle...weapons." 

 

 

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than Lushstories.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright 2018 by Nathan Wolf
All rights reserved.

This is an adult work of fiction intended for mature readers.

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is too weird for words and 100% purely coincidental.

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NOTE: "Secrets of Liberty Mountain" is a work in progress and today stands at 75,000 words. As a new author, I value your feedback. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on my story. Either leave a comment below or PM me and let me know what you think. Thank you.

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