The evening of the DDT Spray Major Lindbergh sent word to assemble a team for a Fuel, Rice, and Bean Drop in two days. Even with the short notification William wasn’t surprised; the pattern from the start had been that the actual dates weren’t announced until days before, the Drops taking place early in the morning. His original plan was to leave for his house the morning after the Spray when the Major asked him to stay, something William readily agreed to.
William suggested taking Sonia and Padma along as part of his unit; Medical Staff representation was always on hand during the Drops to tend to whatever injuries occurred in the course of the loading – broken bones and other injuries that required treatment weren’t uncommon – and according to Dr Anna Padma’s training was progressing in a completely satisfactory manner. Major Lindbergh approved and even suggested William take Aria along as part of his Unit which William also agreed to despite the fact that the Major always led the Drop Teams and could easily have taken her with him. Probably doesn’t want the girl to feel like she’s being babysat, he concluded.
So they left in the predawn hours, William driving a Prius with Aria in the passenger seat and Sonia and Padma in the back, following a flatbed wrecker driven by Chris with Eric as a passenger. They drove out in a convoy of two wreckers and four hybrid vehicles and two panel vans, carrying about two dozen people in total, their destination an abandoned golf course about three miles directly east of the Plant.
They arrived at the golf course while it was still dark, idling onto the grounds in the dim light and parking outside of the maintenance building where the grounds keeping staff once kept their equipment. The golf course was an ideal location for the Drops, a relatively open space with a network of gravel roads and paved trails to permit access to recover the pallets. An added benefit was its location between the Club and the Island Communities; the two Communities shared the Drops and contributed Teams of roughly equal size to recover and divide the contents.
Once the vehicles were parked the people exited and milled about the parking lot; much of the furniture from the deck of the club house had been set up along the perimeter of the parking lot and the teams congregated there, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee from a samovar set up by the shed.
William and the three women gathered at a picnic table next to the Prius and sat together, rifles beside them. Chris and Eric joined them and the six milled about in the orange light of the dawn, the radio of the Prius tuned to Alexander’s radio station, the sound of classical music – Chopin or perhaps Mahler, William thought – sounding softly out of its open windows.
“So is it pretty safe here?” Padma asked, looking about skeptically.
“Sure,” William replied with reassurance. “Those vehicles are from the Island Community,” he told her, pointing at the collection of vehicles that were present when they arrived. “Part of the division of labor is that they arrive the night before and secure the perimeter and in exchange they can harvest some deer while they’re here – being on an island, they hunted down their local population almost at once.”
“Don’t they have other places they can hunt?” Sonia asked.
William grinned and rolled his eyes. “You would think so,” he answered, “But we don’t make too much of an issue of it.” He shrugged. “Keeps peace in the family.”
Major Lindbergh began walking towards their table, the six growing quiet at his approach. “So how are you all doing?” he asked, to everyone’s murmured greetings.
“Just talking about what a perfect day this is for a Drop,” William answered, smiling in return.
Major Lindbergh nodded, not breaking his smile. “So how about you two?” he continued, looking to Sonia and Padma, “Settling in OK?”
“Very well, sir,” Padma and Sonia replied at once. “Dr Anna has been very helpful,” Padma added.
“Well, she’s said nothing but good things about you,” the Major complimented. “And how about you?” he asked, turning to Sonia, “Keeping the ratio of good habits to bad positive, I hope,” he added, gesturing to William with a smile.
“I think so, sir,” Sonia replied with a laugh.
“Well that’s good, that’s good,” he answered. He looked back over his shoulder towards the building. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to be going,” the Major announced, “I have to tend to some details.” At that he nodded his farewell and returned to the main group.
“Listen to you,” Aria teased as her father walked off, “Acting like you’re just talking about the weather.“
“Like I should tell him we’re gossiping about the politics of the Association?” he asked with a frown.
“What details do they need to discuss?” Sonia asked.
“Probably just the basic division of the goods,” William replied. “I’m not sure though how much detail is shared before the Drop.”
“Don’t you worry about, well, some kind of gunfight over this stuff?” Padma asked anxiously, “I mean, there are an awful lot of armed people wandering around. Why shouldn’t one group just take it all?”
“My guess is the military would just suspend the Drops so it would be kind of self defeating,” William replied, “But Aria could probably answer that question better than me.”
“You make it seem like I’m spying at the door of his study,” the teenager replied, exasperated.
“Like you aren’t sneaking in for a glass of Scotch,” Eric teased her, Aria falling silent and regarding the men with a haughty expression.
“On a practical level, there’s a degree of mutual dependence that keeps the peace,” William went on, looking at Padma again, “We need the gas and they need the medical care, stuff like that.”
“Do they really need the medical care that much?” Sonia asked.
“Oh yeah,” Eric added, nodding. “Pretty much a month doesn’t pass by without a case from there.”
“And that doesn’t include the pregnancies,” William added, glancing at Chris.
“Tell her about the snowmobile races,” Chris said, ignoring William.
“Snowmobile races?” Sonia asked incredulously. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”
“No, it’s true,” Eric replied, nodding and smiling. “Back after that huge snowstorm they had some sort of big snowmobile race – set up a course around the Island, something like ten laps.”
“We even traded them some sleds we scrounged up,” William added, “It isn’t like we had enough gas to run them.” He looked at Sonia and shrugged in a gesture of apologetic explanation.
“Anyway, there were a few accidents,” Eric continued, “One a broken leg – an ugly one too, compound fracture of shin, fractured femur, tendon damage to the knee – the other a broken clavicle.”
“What a waste to go through this and injure yourself in something so avoidable, ”Padma remarked.
“No kidding,” Sonia replied, glowering with a glum distaste, “Considering we nearly froze to death in the same blizzard for a few backpacks full of stale vending machine food.”
“Well, we made out OK,” Eric explained. “150 gallons for the collarbone and 250 for the leg.”
“I half expect one day to look to the east and see the glow of some massive conflagration, the drunk asses blowing the whole tanker up,” William commented.
“That’s no bullshit,” Eric agreed.
“You think they’d just go to FEMA to get their medical care since they kissed and made up,” Chris added.
“Apparently the care we provide is better,” Eric told him, shrugging.
“I believe it if what we saw at the Evacuation Centers is any indication,” Padma commented.
“Listen,” Aria interrupted. The six fell silent, followed rapidly by the rest of the people gathered around the parking lot.
They could hear the drone of the airplane in the distance, everyone standing up and looking about, trying to determine the direction of the noise. The humming gradually grew louder, the airplane obviously approaching from the northwest.
“Coming from the direction of the FEMA Establishment in Milford,” William announced, “Did you guys ever recall over flights?”
“Not anything like this,” Sonia replied, “There were the jet fighters from that bombing thing in the fall, and some high altitude stuff, but nothing like this.”
William nodded. Since they were in Troy, it would stand to reason they wouldn’t observe the flights if they approached from further west, he thought.
“Where do these flights come from anyway?” Sonia asked, raising her voice to be heard over the sound of the airplane’s engines which were now loud enough that the vibration could be felt as well as heard.
“I’ve heard that Beaver Island is the nearest active military airstrip,” William explained, “But on some of the Drops the planes have approached from the south.”