It took forever to fall asleep after talking to Katrina. Just knowing there was someone else out there helped fill a bit of the emptiness in my soul. I hopped out of bed and tore off yesterday’s calendar page. The quote for the 19th of October read.
Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind.
I smiled for the first time in a long time. “Thanks, Tom. I am feeling happy today.”
I poured Bandit a bowl of his dog chow and fired up the camp stove to cook some sausage and frozen eggs. It wasn’t too bad. Maybe tonight I would cook up something in the Dutch oven.
After breakfast it was time to… I had no idea. I didn’t want to do anything but call and talk to the mysterious woman in Massachusetts. I unfolded a large map of the lower 48 states.
As the crow flies it was around twenty-three hundred miles from here to there. Driving would be difficult. The freeways would most likely be choked with crashed vehicles. I wished I knew how to fly. The little airport here mainly had Cessnas and other light aircraft, but I had seen a couple of light, twin-engine jets take off before. I could go to the Airbase in Boise and pinch a larger plane, but I would probably end up in a smoldering crater.
I drove the Corvette across the runway and over to the hangars. Parked on the tarmac was a flock of light aircraft. I picked a newer looking single-engine plane and walked around it. The door was ajar and the keys were sitting on the pilot’s seat. A few stray leaves had blown into the cockpit. It looked like the owner was getting ready to go for a spin when… the event happened.
I hopped up into the pilot’s seat. Bandit was busy sniffing the tires. I grabbed the yoke and looked at the instrument panel. So now what? The altimeter was obvious, and the airspeed gauge also seemed fairly straight forward. As for the compass, I remembered the basics from my days as a Boy Scout. The rest of the dials, gauges, and other assorted displays and controls were confusing.
Bandit came around the airplane and looked up at me in the cockpit. “Hey boy, your former master didn’t happen to be a pilot, did he?”
“No, he wasn’t,” Bandit replied.
I didn’t just hear my dog talk back to me, did I? “You can’t talk. Dogs don’t talk.”
“No, we don’t talk. You are going crazy,” he said. “Are we going for a ride in that funny car?”
I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. “Shut up.” I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I felt like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.
I looked back at my dog; he let out a little whine. Even he could tell I wasn’t doing well. I climbed out of the cockpit and shut the door. “Let’s do some more shopping,” I told him.
We drove the neighbor’s pickup down to the local electronics super store and pried the glass doors open. It was dark inside. Shopping had become a bit more interesting now that the power grid was down. I wandered to the back of the store with the light on my FAL carbine shining the way. I found a flight simulator package with a yoke and pedals, then snagged a copy of “Real Flight XII.”
“I really must be insane if I think I can teach myself to fly using a game,” I said to Bandit. He happily wagged his tail. “Lucky mutt. Why are you always happy?”
When I arrived back home I fired up the computer and installed the game. After a bit of tweaking, everything was ready. A virtual Cessna rolled down the runway, picking up speed as the propeller sliced through the air. I pulled back on the flight yoke and the little plane leapt into the air.
“Hey, flying isn’t so tough,” I said, right before the plane stalled and crashed into the ground.
I looked at my watch, it was 9:58 a.m. I figured that was close enough to call Katrina. I wandered into the radio room and picked up the satellite phone. I punched in the numbers and waited impatiently as the phone rang. Two, three, four rings, ugh this was unbearable. Finally on the sixth ring she picked up.
“Hello, Martin,” she said. Hearing her voice again made me swoon.
“Hi, Katrina. Call me Marty,” I replied.
She coughed, “Umm okay, Marty. Well you can call me Kat.”
“Kat? Really?” I asked just a bit surprised.
“Yes, that’s what my friends call me. Well I mean called me.”
We shared an awkward silence for a while. “Yeah I know what you mean.” I tried to change the subject; I didn’t want to dwell on being alone. “So, has anyone else contacted you yet?” I asked.
“No, but I did get an AM signal transmitting this morning. You should make a similar message and get it going.”
“Well, I don’t know much about radio, but you’re probably right.”
We talked for about twenty minutes when I remembered something that came up last night. “So, do you want to share your theory about what happened?”
Kat paused for a while, “Well, okay. I think the Earth passed through some sort of wormhole.”
“What, like in Star Trek?” I asked.
“Well, yeah. I think one, big enough to swallow up the Earth, passed through the solar system, and that’s why everyone vanished,” She explained.
I had been rolling around some theories for a while now. “I’ve been puzzling over this myself, but if what you say is true then why are all the animals still here? I think it would be reasonable to assume that there’s an intelligence behind the event.”
Kat didn’t say anything for a long time. “What do you mean by an intelligence?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. If this was some natural, cosmic phenomenon why did it just take the humans?”
“Are you saying someone, or something, plotted to take everyone? Why?”
I shrugged my shoulders then felt goofy because she couldn’t see me. “I don’t know, I’ve been trying to figure this out since E.D. plus two.”
“Oh, sorry. Event Day.”
Kat’s voice became low and stoic. “Look, Martin, do you think everyone was stolen to be… eaten?”
“I don’t think so, because if that were the case why did they leave all the deer, dogs, cows, and sheep? As far as I can tell, no animals have disappeared.”
She coughed, “So, if ‘they’ didn’t want to eat us what do they want?”
A horrible realization dawned on me. “They don’t want us… they want the planet. Just like a Neutron bomb.”
“Wait a minute, you mean like the bomb that kills all the people and leaves the buildings standing?”
“Exactly. Whoever did this wanted us out of the way so they could just move on in. Think about it, they performed the ultimate sneak attack and caught every military in the world off guard. They didn’t need bombs, tanks, or occupation troops.”
We sat in silence, thousands of miles away from each other. After a moment Kat spoke up. “So, are you saying little green men will be showing up soon to claim the Earth as their own? And what did they do with everyone?”
I shuddered. “If you were a ruthless conquering race would you want to feed a few billion people?”
“No, I… do you think they tossed everyone out into space?” she said, with a tinge of anxiety.
“I have no idea. Frankly this whole thing could be just the ramblings of a paranoid mind. All I really know is that something planned the event. This wasn’t some random, galactic phenomenon.”
“You rang?” Noid tried to break into the conversation. Maybe it was time for some more pills.
“Let’s talk about something else. What did you do before… the event,” she asked.
“I was the server guy for Geotech. We stored geological information system data for a few clients. But none of that matters now. What about you?”
“Well, I was studying here at MIT in the department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.”
“Really? You would have to be pretty smart to do that.”
“Thanks, but I’m no genius,” she said. “I was looking at getting a job at a Nuclear power plant after graduation, I’d even looked at the Idaho National Laboratory out in your area, but now…”
“Yes, things have changed, haven’t they?” That reminded me. “How are you doing for food, shelter, and all that stuff?”
“Well, the lab I am living in has a massive diesel generator, so power isn’t a problem. I raided a few local grocery stores, so I should be OK for now,” she replied.
“What about defense?” I asked.
“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it, but what would I need to defend against?”
I sighed, “Well, the dogs around here have been getting vicious, but who knows what else might be out there. Escaped zoo animals, rats, cougars.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Find a firearms store and pick out a few weapons that feel comfortable to you. Be sure to take a bunch of ammunition,” I offered.
“But I don’t know anything about guns, Marty,” she replied.
Teaching someone about firearms safety over the phone, thousands of miles away, wasn’t exactly an easy task, but I figured I could at least get her started. “Well, let’s cover the four rules first.”
“Okay, fire away,” she joked.
“Cute, but this is serious business. If you don’t respect firearms you are in for a world of hurt.” I rolled my eyes.
“Sorry. I’ll be serious.” She sounded more somber.
“Number one, all guns are always loaded. Even if they’re not, treat them as if they are; Number two, never let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy; Number three, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target; Number four, identify your target, and what’s behind it. Never shoot at anything you haven’t positively identified.”
“Umm, what was number two again?”
We spent the next half hour going over the rules until she could recite them verbatim. I told her to practice with whatever firearms she decided to acquire and she said she would.
We were about to end the call when I got up enough courage to say, “I think that in the long term we should, you know, meet up.”
There was a long silence on her end. Had I offended her? “You’re right, if only for sanity’s sake, but how would we do that, the roads here are choked with vehicles?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll think of something,” I said.
“Thanks, Marty, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Yes, same time. Bye.”
The satellite phone cut out and I hung it up. Now all I needed to do was to figure out how to get to the east coast.