Previous Story: 30. Curiosity… and the Cat
Another part of Buck’s regular routine was to circle the police station around sundown. Leaving Lance to take the first night shift, he was removing his jacket when Pai came in holding one of her several laptops.
‘Got something interesting here.’
Pai put the laptop down and waved a hand at it. ‘I’ll spare you the technicalities - you won’t understand anyway.’
Used to such comments from the tech expert, Buck shrugged.
‘I’ve been monitoring coms via the station’s array,’ she continued. ‘Traffic gets quieter every day but I picked up some encoded transmissions this morning. Probably whoever is sending them thinks they’re secure but it’s actually a very basic code. I cracked it and it seems like a couple of groups communicating. Not sure who they are but most of their discussions are about supplies. One of them mentioned a bunker under the house of some prepper. They know it’s there but are worried about Crazies and whether they’ll be able to get in.’
‘You’re right – very interesting. Where is this place?’
‘Sunrise District. 176 21st Avenue.’
Lucky made a few calculations. ‘About four miles. Lot of Crazies over that way. You want me to take a look?’
‘You’re the one who wanted to explore,’ replied Gadget. ‘Maybe just check it out, see what’s there. You’ll need some company, of course.’
‘How did you find about this?’
‘Digital transmission between two groups. They seem to be allied but are obviously in different locations. Artemis realized it was a basic encryption and we worked it out together.’
‘Tomorrow night?’ suggested Lucky, excited by this new mission.
‘Fine by me,’ said Gadget. ‘But whoever they are, these groups seem to have decided the bunker is a tough nut to crack. And with Crazies around, you’ll have to appraise the situation when you get there. If it’s too dangerous, you come back, okay?’
As Buck pulled the rug away, Pai’s flashlight illuminated the hatch in the middle of the garage floor.
‘At last,’ said Buck. He was relieved. They had spent the last twenty minutes searching 176 21st street. Breaking in had been easy, getting through several blocks of Crazies had not.
Pai was already squatting beside a control panel set into the concrete beside the hatch. ‘Not bad for a civilian.’
‘How long?’ asked Buck.
Buck nodded and spoke into his radio. Pai had adjusted them all so that the frequency modulated every ten seconds; nobody could listen in.
‘Bolt, we’ve found it. Anything out there?’
‘All quiet.’ The sniper had stationed herself beside a tree in the garden. From there she could watch the driveway. The gate had been left open but the rest of the property was surrounded by a high wall.
While Pai got to work, Buck reflected on the last few hours. They had avoided contact where possible but eliminated four Crazies. Bolt had taken them out from distance with her suppressed scout rifle. As usual, Buck wondered who the people had been before being transformed into manic killers. He just hoped that somebody somewhere was working on a cure.
Pai pressed a switch and the hatch doors swung down to reveal a step-ladder attached to a metallic wall.
‘That wasn’t even a minute,’ said Buck.
‘What can I tell you? I’m gifted.’
Pai reached down and activated a power switch which turned on a light within the bunker. Within seconds, the hum of a generator also kicked into life.
Buck heard the door to the house open behind him. Suddenly the garage light also came on.
‘Hey, Bolt, I told you to-’
The first thing Buck noticed when he turned around was Bolt’s bloody nose. The woman holding the scout rifle firmly by the upper arm looked very determined but she had also been injured. She was tall, African-American, with a cut on her forehead and a fresh swelling over her right eye. Next to enter the garage was a young man holding Bolt’s rifle. Behind him was a smaller woman armed with a knife.
Buck was about to draw his gun but Pai already had her pistol aimed at the young man’s face. ‘You better talk - fast.’
Only then did Buck realize that he knew the young man.
‘It’s all right, Pai,’ he said. ‘We’ve met before. Lucky, right?’ It had been a while since the incident at Chung Wah Noodles but his many years on the force had equipped Buck with a formidable memory.
Lucky was equally glad to see a familiar face. He wanted those supplies but knew he couldn’t afford to let the confrontation spiral out of control. ‘Oh yeah, the cop – from the noodle place. Can I suggest we all put the weapons away?’
At a nod from Buck, Pai holstered her gun. Bolt pulled herself free and went to join her friends. She wiped her sleeve across her bloody nose.
‘What happened to you?’ asked Pai.
‘Slight disagreement,’ explained Lucky. ‘I guess that’ll teach us to try and sneak up on people. So, you’re Bolt, eh? And you’re Pai. And-’
‘I’m Lucky, these two are Seeker and Artemis.’
‘Sorry about your nose,’ said Artemis diplomatically.
‘I’m not sorry about your eye,’ countered Bolt with a glare.
Thinking it might be wise to change the subject, Lucky pointed down at the hatch. ‘I guess you heard about this place too. The coded transmissions?’
He had already seen the mini-computer mounted on Pai’s wrist. These guys were clearly well equipped.
‘Don’t tell me you decoded them?’ said Pai.
Lucky elected not to take offense at that comment. ‘Some friends of ours. Listen, this area is packed with Crazies. It wouldn’t be wise to hang around.’
‘Maybe you guys scare easily,’ said Bolt. ‘We don’t.’
Seeker contributed for the first time: ‘There should be quite a haul in that bunker. Are you prepared to share it?’
‘Why should we?’ snapped Bolt. ‘Without us, you wouldn’t have even gotten inside.’
‘I wouldn’t be too sure of that,’ replied Lucky.
‘Let’s be fair about this,’ said Buck, determined to calm the situation. ‘We may have the advantage in tech but you three clearly know how to take care of yourselves. If we divide what we find, we can work together to get out of here. Six have a much better chance than three.’
Lucky reckoned that was a good offer but he turned to Seeker and Artemis. Seeker nodded swiftly.
Artemis was still exchanging cold stares with Bolt. ‘I guess.’
‘Makes sense,’ said Bolt reluctantly.
‘And then?’ asked Pai.
‘Then we can go our separate ways,’ replied Lucky, ‘just like before. Right, Buck?’
With Bolt and Seeker on sentry detail, the other four descended into the bunker. Whoever the prepper was, they had left supplies for months rather than years but it was still a valuable find. Within an hour, several hundred ration packs and dozens of batteries had been hauled up into the garage. There were numerous other useful items but the six of them couldn’t carry any more. Once Pai had sealed the hatch, she reset the code and told the Survivalists as a gesture of good will.
Buck and Lucky were placing the last of the rations in their packs when they noted Artemis, Seeker and Bolt deep in conversation. The women had evidently forgotten their earlier differences. After further discussion, they approached the other three.
Artemis spoke first: ‘We have a strategy for getting out of here but there’s a downside for you guys.’
Lucky was intrigued. ‘Which is?’
‘You carry all the packs.’
‘And what do you three do?’ asked Buck.
‘Make sure a Crazy won’t get within thirty feet of any of you,’ said Bolt.
Pai sighed and grabbed a second pack. ‘Sounds good to me. Fortunately, I’m stronger than I look.’
Buck grabbed his gun and a second bulging pack. ‘Let’s do it.’
They called it the corridor. With Seeker in the middle, Artemis to the left and Bolt to the right, the trio advanced ahead of the other three. Seeker surveyed the immediate area as she moved, identifying targets that were eliminated either by Artemis’ kinetic pulse arrows or Bolt’s bullets. They moved so fast that the heavily-laden Buck, Lucky and Pai struggled to keep up. However, this pace meant that they were out of the danger zone in less than an hour.
‘Nice work, ladies,’ said Buck as they rested beside a small park.
‘Slightly patronizing,’ said Artemis, ‘but thanks anyway. How many did you bag, Bolt?’
‘Eleven, I think. You?’
The group divided up their bags and said their farewells.
‘I guess as groups we’re kind of opposites,’ observed Lucky with a wry grin. ‘But collaborating worked out well this time. Maybe it will again.’
Pai spoke up: ‘I discussed encryption with Artemis and we’ve selected a frequency to use. We can communicate if we need to.’
‘Until next time then,’ said Buck.
Lucky shook the hand offered to him. ‘Until next time.’
Next Story: 32. Save the Seals!