Castle Roland

Day of N

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 12

Posted: 5 Nov 15

Day of N

Kyle Aarons

Once the sheriff was sure the boys were well situated in the back, he made his way past the town of Norcatur slowly, so the sound of a vehicle on the road would not be easily noticed. His fears were eased some as the man noticed the stream on the east side had overflowed its banks and had flooded out the eastern most section of the small community and blocked access to the road he was driving on.

It took only a few minutes to drive past and turn back to the east, but in those minutes everyone ducked down as several gunshots could be heard from the direction of the town. The sheriff quickly decided speeding up and clearing the area was way more important than keeping the noise of the old engine and exhaust down. As soon as he was sure he was not the target, he slowed and glanced back to make sure no one was following. Nothing was, but the sounds of gunshots didn't diminish.

"Kids, keep your eyes open and let me know if anything appears behind us. We'll be on the tracks real soon, so make sure you have something to hold onto. This is going to be a bumpy ride."

The man ground the gears a bit as he once again accelerated, wanting to get as far from the town as possible. At the same time, he reached over and grabbed his handheld radio, suddenly very happy he had kept a half dozen old walkie talkies in the basement instead of tossing them. "Hank, can you read me?"

A response was quick in coming back, "Got you Dad. You OK?"

"Yeah, but the shit is hitting the fan in Norcatur. We just heard and are still hearing gunfire, not directed at us, but pretty heavy. The east side is flooded, the small dike north of the highway is gone and so is the bridge. If any of them flee, they will have to head our direction or north, so wake those we deputized and get the trucks moving to grab those supplies. I don't think we have much time till we start getting visitors and we need to have something set up for them."

"Already on it, Dad. We also managed to get a couple of trailers and borrowed the forklifts from the silos, so we'll get it all in one big load."

"Good, but we need a strong law presence for any new arrivals. Remember, if anyone wants to stay, fine, but no weapons. We can't keep order if everyone is armed."

"We'll get it handled and I'll get the guys out to cover the roads coming in. Keep your eyes open for sources of gasoline though, the tanks at my station will only hold us for so long."

The sheriff concentrated on his chewing tobacco for a few seconds, then spit a wad out the window. "Hank, there are several cars and trucks off the road and one big crash not far from town. Grab a couple of farmers who have water rigs for their fields and get them a couple of pumps. We need to get fuel out of those vehicles before others start to think about it. Also send out a couple of armed scouts to look for fuel trucks, farms with fuel tanks, and check the tracks for trains. I have no idea how much fuel is in a train engine, but there has to be more than a few gallons of some type of gas there as well. Besides, there is a coal train out here and we need to grab as much as we can figure out how to. That Army Ranger is right; we only have a few hours, to a day, before survivors start coming out now that the storms have stopped, so we need to get what we can grab now."

Hank sighed before he responded, "We'll get it taken care of, just get back here safe and remind those scouts they would be extremely valuable to us here."

The seven boys in the back all exchanged looks as they heard the conversation. Angus was first to actually speak. "Not until we find our parents, agreed?"

Hunter and Vernon quickly nodded followed by everyone else except Devin. Devin cringed as he heard a few more distant pops of gunfire. "Shouldn't we set some kind of time limit?"

Ramsey glared over at Devin, "Dude, do you think any of them will stop looking for us?"

Gage mumbled something but most of the kids missed it since all eyes were on Devin. Before Angus, who did catch most of it, could turn his attention to Gage, Hunter cleared his throat and patted Ramsey on the shoulder.

Hunter eyed Devin with a great deal of disappointment, but realized his friend for as far back as he could remember had a valid concern. "Look, before we all get mad at each other, Devin does have a point, as does Ram. We could walk around for months looking while our parents are doing the same thing. What we need to do is leave word at places of who and where we are and then we have to go back to Jennings once in a while to see if some of our families got word and went there."

Vernon grabbed onto the side of the old pickup as the Sheriff turned onto the tracks, but managed to speak as the whole vehicle started to rattle once the tires started hitting the railroad ties. "I'm more worried about what happens when we find some of our parents and they don't want us to help the rest."

"My dad wouldn't," Angus stated with total certainty. "He may demand to come with, but he wouldn't stop me from helping."

"Same here," Ramsey nodded in agreement. "My mom, on the other hand…"

This got a snicker out of Hunter, "Yeah…" The word extended out for several seconds before he finally had to take a breath. "There is a certain argument waiting to happen between my mom and dad."

The next few miles were done in silence. The only sounds were the engine of the truck and the tires over the railroad. An occasional gunshot could still be heard, but after a couple of miles the rattling of the rough ride finally drowned out even those.

It didn't take long for the kids to realize the constant storms had done a great deal of damage. Several times the sheriff had to slow so he could drive through water on the tracks. The few times a building could be seen, external damage was pretty heavy, usually in the form of siding flapping in the chilly breeze and sections of shingles hanging off the side. When they finally did go right past a set of silos, with a pull off for trains to pick up grain, they all noted broken windows, even on the pair of trucks alongside the main building, and serious damage to the silos. The way one of them was leaning it was clear the earthquakes had led to some of the more extensive damage they were seeing.

It also started to occur to most of the kids other things had changed and not for the better. The amount of greenery was way less than it should have been for early June as well. Field after field of cropland was flooded out, beaten down, and all but wiped out. Also, just like back at the farmhouse they had sought shelter in, there were no leaves left on the trees. Wind and hail had stripped them all, and in many cases had done the same to the bark.

The entire landscape was rather desolate and the higher the sun rose into the early morning sky, the more damage it revealed. The other thing the boys quickly noticed was the sun looked more red than it should and didn't have the warmth they expected. At the same time, the air itself seemed clean and rain-washed which told all of them there was a great deal of dust way up in the atmosphere. Before talk about what they were seeing and feeling could be communicated, the pickup came to a stop.

Devin glanced over the top of the cab, "Oh, man… There's another train up ahead. It looks like it stopped on a bridge and the bridge fell too!"

This caused all the other to stand and take a look. Even from the distance they were at, all of them could see a break in the line of train cars where the bridge had been.

The sheriff hopped out and let out a long sigh. "This looks like it is about as far as I can take you. As it is, it's going to be a royal bitch to turn around and head back." He pointed down the small embankment on both sides to where water had pooled. "If I go down there, I'm stuck."

Gage pulled the hunting rifle up to his eye and used the scope to check out the train, then panned around so he could check out the surrounding area. He gulped and pointed up the tracks to the northeast, "Guys, something seems off. Part of the train is off the tracks further up past the bridge and I can see part of a guy hanging out the window of the engine.

Angus pulled out a pair of military binoculars and hopped up on top of the roof of the truck cab. With the higher powered binoculars, he saw even more than Gage did. He felt a shiver roll down his spine as he realized many of the trees just past the train were leaning toward him and many had most of their branches missing. "Oh, crud…" he quickly turned and looked back at Hunter and tried to speak but found the words caught in his throat. He looked down at the bed of the pickup and forced himself to take a couple of deep breaths. Finally he forced the words out. "Dude… the Geiger counter…"

Hunter's eyes went wide as he scrambled to pull out the device from the back of his pack.

While Hunter fought shaking hands, the sheriff hopped up on the back of the truck and had to coax Angus's hands off the binoculars so he could take a better look. The second he held them up to his eyes, he let out a long breath. "Son of a bitch, it looks like we are right on the edge of a blast radius!" He paused as he scanned the area. "I bet Norton took a hit."

Angus glanced down at Hunter with a great deal of fear, "Anything?"

Hunter held up the radiation detector with his eyes fixated on the needle. After several seconds he finally shook his head as he took a knee, "No, it's picking up nothing but background radiation, which is higher than normal, but Mr. K told me we would be getting some extra Counts Per Minute, or CPMs. He said if it goes above seventy we are pushing it and if we hit one hundred and twenty we were too hot and should clear out. I've got forty two right now which is five less than we had at the farmhouse yesterday."

The sheriff glanced over with a bit of a surprised look. "You sure it is working properly?"

"It had a tester with it, and I read the whole booklet like five times to make sure I calibrated it right and Mr. K double checked all of them, so yeah, I'm sure it works. All three of them we found do. It was about the only thing I had energy to do after pulling everything out of the plane."

The sheriff reached down and patted Hunter's slender still lightly quaking form. "Glad you figured it out, cause this old man is an idiot when it comes to anything technical. Hell, my wife dragged me kicking and screaming into updating my old trusty Windows Three by buying all new equipment last year without telling me. It took all three of my grand kids a week to finally get me past turning them on."

Gage's left eyebrow shot up, "What's Windows Three?"

This got a humorous snort out of the man, "An operating system that was outdated before you were even born, son. It was all the rave back in the nineties."

Several of the kids exchanged glances and more than a few shrugs causing the sheriff to snicker. "You know, I'm kind of glad to have the power out for a while. I'm tired of getting my butt kicked on X-boxes and Play Stations."

This finally broke the tension enough to get some grins out of a couple of the boys, which in turn caused Ramsey and Vernon to start talking about missing their game systems.

Angus, on the other hand, felt his heart rate slow a bit as fear of radiation eased and the topic of conversation changed. This, in turn, allowed him to really take stock of the situation they were in. He took a moment and looked around much more carefully. "I think we have been driving through bomb damage for a while. All the trees are bent to the southwest, just not as bad. "We should have noticed it, since almost all trees are pointing that way. Even the silo we passed…" He paused as his brow crinkled up, "But if we are inside the bomb area why isn't there any radiation?"

The sheriff shrugged, "Your scout leader could probably answer." He grabbed his radio, "Hey, Steven you close to a radio?"

Mr. Korbal's voice came back after a brief delay. "Yeah, I just got to the clinic and they are getting ready to start poking at me. How are my boys?"

"Fine, but we have a question." The sheriff turned up the volume so everyone could easily hear. "We seem to be inside a blast zone, but there ain't no radiation. What gives?"

It took a couple of seconds for Steven to respond. When he did his voice didn't hide his concern. "First off, if they can hear me, I recommend they come back, and if they won't, then they need to keep the Geiger counter out. There will be no way to see where the radiation starts. Anything above a hundred and I want them to back away, if they get to one twenty I want them to start jogging out of the area. Above one fifty and they need to run. Background radiation is already high, so they need to avoid any extra exposure."

Seeing Hunter nodding in understanding, the sheriff keyed the radio again. "Looks like Hunter, here, gets it. He was pretty much telling me the same thing so he has the numbers burned into his brain. The question still remains, how can we be inside a blast zone and not have extra radiation?"

When Steven responded his voice took on the tone of someone teaching a class. "I could get real technical, but to put it in easy to understand language I'll try to stick with the very basics."

The sheriff nodded while speaking, "Keeping it simple and stupid for us country folk is just fine by me."

This got a snicker out of Steven. "I'll do my best. The first thing you need to get is radiation from bombs isn't just out there. It is in particles. These particles are what emit the radiation. Because of this, the dispersion of radiation from a nuclear strike is directly related to where those particles go.

"In simplest terms, it's all about the weather at the time of the explosion and if it was a ground or an air detonation. From what I know of military tactics and strategy, most were probably air because they cause more damage than a ground hit. If this is the case where you are, then the radiation would have spread further, but would be less concentrated. Also the wind would have pushed the radiation whatever direction it was blowing. This means anything downwind will be hot, while upwind will not except right around the blast site. That whole area will be hot for a very, very long time.

Steven paused as he thought back to the day the bombs hit. "From what I remember, it was a pretty calm day with a very gentle wind from the west southwest when we were on our bikes, so radiation in our area would spread to the east northeast. Very little would be on the west side, but as you get close the chances of some hard fallout particles will increase so monitoring will be a must at this point.

"The next thing you need to understand is there are three types of damage from a nuclear strike. The radiation is actually the third. The first is heat. At the moment of explosion the heat at the core is close to the heat of a star, or our sun. Depending on the size of the yield, the heat wave would vaporize everything inside the center area and would incinerate almost everything flammable out to about three times the vaporization zone. From there, fires would burn out of control on easily flammable materials even further out. The rains we got after the initial attacks would have cut down on both the radiation and should have put out the fires, so all things considered we are lucky.

"However, what you are seeing is the second effect of a nuclear attack and is the most damaging. The blast and the subsequent back flow as air rushed back into the area is what wipes out the areas beyond the heat wave. The physical blast damage zone would have expanded outward in a circular pattern from the point of detonation a few miles past where the heat wave would have stopped, so if you are seeing widespread damage with no burning, then you are in the physical blast zone and outside where the heat wave expanded out to."

Steven's voice stopped suddenly. When he came back over the radio he let out a sigh. "They just gave me a shot, so something tells me I need to tell you the rest of this fast.

"Anyway, to give you a better idea of how this works, when we were still out and the kids were getting me to the farmhouse, we felt the very edge of a blast wave. At the time I was too out of it to really think it over, but it was probably a high altitude detonation to hit our area with a wide scale EMP. It was so far away we didn't even end up with a backflow. Such an air detonation could have been dozens of miles from us, but would have taken out any surviving power grids over most of the state, if not further. At the same time, it was probably so high up the heat wave may not have even reached the ground and radiation would all be in the upper atmosphere. It is those types of strikes which are causing higher than normal background radiation and will make it damned hard to figure out where hot zones start and stop."

Steven's voice started to sound a bit groggy but he refused to stop talking. "Those are also the ones which will cause birth defects and other problems for generations to come and one of the reasons I told the kids to sleep underground or in heavy buildings as often as possible. Radiation counts will drop over time, and as they do it will be safer to spend more time outside, but for now, and into the foreseeable future, sleeping underground will at least give our younger ones a fighting chance to have healthy kids of their own."

Steven took a deep breath as he fought the effects of the drugs injected into him, "Guys, if you are seeing damage where you are at, then chances are… well you need to think hard about going further. There will be lots of dead and badly injured the deeper into the blasssssssst zzzzzzzoooooooonnnnnneee…"

Before more could be said, a female voice came over the radio, "Gentlemen, Doctor Beacon say we need to get this man into surgery now and he is all but out of it anyway. Also she says to tell you all you should get back here now. In her medical opinion a background count of over forty is not healthy for children and can't be doing you much good either Sheriff. She also wants to know when the last time you checked your blood sugar was."

The sheriff rolled his eyes, "I was fine this morning and had a snack. I've got my kit and will check again here shortly. Also, I know damned good and well that came from my wife, so don't go blaming the doc."

The sheriff set the radio on the front seat and turned to look at all the boys, "I also know my wife of forty-eight years probably put a note in the food she handed you all to find more insulin for me. If you all insist on staying out here, don't go risking so much as a splinter for my old hide. You all are the future, not me."

Hunter turned to look at the others, so he wouldn't have to look into the man's eyes. "Guys, looks like we are on foot from here if we want to push on. Maybe we should go back and rethink this a bit more, maybe see if Hank can get one of the cars on the side of the road running, so we can check out the edge of the blast area and see if there is a road in. Besides, almost everything is flooded and the lake has got to have covered the whole campground by now."

"Maybe not," the sheriff spoke with a great deal of trepidation in his voice. "The dam is a good four miles, probably five from here and very close to Norton. The blast may have breached it and emptied the reservoir. There is no way to know until you… we get closer. I'll tell you what, let's find a way to turn me around and I'll poke around on a few of the back roads I know. With any luck we can at least get close enough to where we can see the campground from a distance and see what is there.

Ramsey looked at the trees and shook his head with tears in his eyes. "If Dad is alive, he would have gotten out of the area by now. He knows a little about survival and would want to get away from possible radiation. He won't be there and if he left any clues, we will need to get all the way there. I hate this, but Hunter is right. We need to see if we can get a car so Angus can drive us all the way in and we can get out fast if we need to."

Hunter blinked a few tears out of his own eyes, "With a car we can go where the CPMs are higher and look for insulin for you too, Sheriff."

The sheriff sighed but stepped up and a put his hands on Hunter's shoulders all but wrapping him in a hug as he did so, "I can tell you are in charge of this little group and my granddaughter adores you. You all saved the lives of my son and three of my grandchildren, so listen to me carefully. You all are just as important to me as my family, so I'm being totally serious when I say this." His eyes and voice hardened. "Do not risk your lives for medicine for me. If you happen to find some, fine, but I have way less to offer this world as it tries to pull itself up from the brink than any of you do."

He stopped talking as he noticed Zeki walking down the tracks toward the train. "Um, where is your small friend going and why?"

Devin turned and jogged up to the smaller boy and tapped him on the shoulder, "Zeek, what gives?"

Zeki paused as he saw the others moving to catch up. Once they were all close he pointed at the train. "It's on track. I want to see if it works." He then started moving toward the train again.

While the others, including the sheriff eyed Zeki with a degree of befuddlement, Vernon's eyes lit up. "Guys, have you ever been over his place?"

Everyone except Gage and the sheriff nodded but still looked totally confused. Vernon eyed the others and frowned, "How about his basement?"

Zeki stopped and looked back sharply and with clear annoyance on his face, "They not want to spend night like you, so me no show them. The basement only for good friends who not afraid of Muslims, like some of you are." His voice spoke volumes as to his firm belief in what he was saying.

"Not fair, Zeek," Ramsey stated with a clearly hurt tone, "you never asked!"

"Cause he wasn't allowed to." Vernon jumped to defend Zeki. "His family won't let him invite anyone to stay the night unless they stay for a dinner, which means a reading from the Quran. When I was over the first time, they told me they were scared of people here since they are the only Muslims. They wanted to see how his friends react to a reading of the Quran and then spend the night at their house, before he could spend the night at someone else's house."

Angus looked up at the sky and shook his head, "It had nothing to do with that, I just didn't like the sound of a Turkish meal. Even my mom called me a wimp when she heard."

Vernon whistled softly, "You really missed out! They made this thing called Manti, kind of like a meat filled dumpling. It had this topping that was really good and had kind of a minty flavor, and man, I ate till I couldn't eat no more. They were all laughing at me as I asked if I could get like fourths. Not only did you miss a great meal, you never got to see his basement."

Vernon motioned for everyone to follow Zeki toward the train while he explained, "His basement is huge and it's all for him. The main area has like one of the coolest model train sets ever. He has a whole town with all sorts of tracks and can have like four trains going at the same time. His uncle sends him stuff to add on to it all the time."

"Five train, was about to do six and Uncle Kadir be me Great Uncle, mom's side." Zeki corrected Vernon. "Him used to take me on train all the time after the earthquake to make me feeling better. He big engineer with Turkish State Railways and help with cargo train sometimes too. Me know model train real good, but lots about real ones too."

To prove his point Zeki pointed again, "The engine is on track so are six car behind. Seven one back is off, so we unhook and take first six if engine start. This track go to town no turn off, so we take it right there."

The sheriff's eyebrows shot up as some suspicion enter his voice, "You're right about these tracks, but how did you know where they went?"

Vernon responded for Zeki, clearly wanting to fully defend the boy. "He has a wall in his basement with all the tracks in and around Kansas along with train diagrams and models. He highlights the ones he has walked and explored too. He even knows what lines belongs to what railroads and even what types of engines they have. He builds models of them too. He is a total train nut. While most of us want to be doctors, firefighters, and…" Vernon nodded in Devin's direction, "President; Zeek only wants one thing."

"Drive train," Zeki confirmed with a hard nod and big smile. "Just like Uncle Kadir."

The sheriff chewed on his lip and eyed Zeki as the kid turned and continued to walk toward the locomotive. "That body is going to smell real bad…"

Zeki shrugged, "Me smell dead before. We push off and see if engine start. If it do, we uncouple last off track car and we drive train back. Then we hand move track and go get coal train. It was all on track. We tow back and have everything."

The sheriff shook his head trying to clear it, clearly not believing what the Zeki was saying. "First off…"

Hunter tapped the sheriff's side and shook his head. He then whispered. "Don't ask about the body. Trust us, it's nasty."

"Way worser than nasty, Hunter." Zeki kind of snarled as the smile vanished, "And no need to speak soft, me still hear. At least the man up on the train be in one piece, so no so bad."

The words and the way they were spoken got a shiver out of the sheriff, who quickly decided he didn't want to know more. "OK, so let me ask a totally different question. Why didn't you say something or chime in when we saw the coal train?"

Zeki shook his head, "Not much we could do the way it be. If this engine run it all change."

"The way it be?" The sheriff asked.

"The way it was." Vernon once again spoke for Zeki. "I'm pretty sure he means there was something wrong with the other train. His English is getting better all the time, and would probably be lots better if more of us would have gone over his house for meals and stuff."

Devin rolled his eyes, "OK, so we screwed up and haven't been very nice to Zeek since he joined us. We get it Vern. So, Zeek what was wrong with the other train?"

"You no see the track?" Zeki stopped as he saw the blank stares, "Guess not…" He managed another grin as he realized everyone was giving him their undivided attention for the first time since he was forced to join scouts. "The third engine, one closest to cars and two cars next to it was on… um…" His lips went white as he tried to think of the right word. Finally he let out a breath and made wave motions with his hand. "The track was like this where water took away dirt under them. It would have come off track and made big crash. But engines are up… um… away from town… so as long as track is good from town to back of train everything behind bad spot in track can be towed, just real slow, but above twenty kilometers per hour so we not hurt the traction motors, since it be long train and not easy for one engine to pull. Might only be able to take only part. Would keep to under one kilometer long."

Zeki stopped and used his finger in the mud off to the side of the tracks to do a few mathematical formulas. "No more than sixty-three cars, but probably be too much weight. Need to know weight of the cars to be sure if we can take so many. To be safe best to go about forty-five to fifty cars"

Gage cocked his head to the side as he looked down at the formulas scribbled into the mud. "You actually know how long a coal car is and how to figure out the length of a train?"

Zeki nodded, "Uncle Kadir test me all the time, but me have to learn new when me came to United States. He quiz me all the time over Skype so me learned all the normals for here with him helping."

"OK, I'm officially impressed." The sheriff stated with a degree of awe. He then glanced back at the truck, "However, even if you can get it working, we still need to get my old beater turned around and out of the way."

Zeki looked up at the man, "Drive it backward to split off track we pass two kilometers ago then turn and go forward again."

The sheriff got the look of a deer caught in the headlights. "Yeah, the simple solution…"

This got some good laughter out of all the boys, even given the fact they were still walking toward an obviously dead body.

The sheriff even managed a humor-filled snort as he looked down at Zeki. "So do you notice everything?"

Zeki shook his head, "Only with train and track. Uncle Kadir teached me to look for track problem, car problem, landmark, and turn off spot. Him always say good train engineer need to know everything about his train and all ways to get off main track if something go wrong. Uncle Kadir many time let me sit through some of the engineer lesson with new train driver people. Many pictures show problem and part of class was to see them first. Me better than many adult cause Uncle Kadir always showed me stuff when me go with him."

The sheriff shook his head as he looked over the boys in front of him. "OK, so… we have a train engineer. Hunter, from what I have heard, you are wicked smart and a real leader. You are also the science guy. Gage, my kids say you are the best shot ever and your scout master says you can handle the firepower your packing. You also helped with the surgery on the pilot, so you have military and medic written all over you. I know from the mayor and the comments from the others here Devin, you are the group politician."

He shook his head again as a bemused grin started to form. "Vernon, my grandson says you know muskets, how to make powder, and even how to load a cannon. You showed him how to handle, load and shoot a musket. My granddaughters say you know lots about civil war history and tactics. Given what most kids find interesting and what you do, especially the way you talked about the trains, you are an explorer at heart.

The sheriff paused and glanced over at Angus and Ramsey, "So where do you two fit in, other than I heard Angus can drive and is the strong one?"

"Angus is the farmer and mechanic," Hunter spoke up. "He can fix small engines, drive tractors, and knows how to plant and harvest. I've helped a couple of times, but the work and the hours kicked my butt. He is also the best linebacker his age in this part of Kansas, if not all of Kansas."

This caused the sheriff to focus in on Angus, "Farm boy in scouts and not 4H?"

Angus shook his head, "I'm not an animal guy unless I'm hunting them, and I basically suck at it but like to try. I like camping and hiking and being outside. Scouts is way better for that than 4H."

"But you do know farming?" The sheriff asked carefully.

Angus nodded, "Not from choice. I was born into it and like it or not my dad realized I had a knack for farming so by the time I was eight I was driving the small tractor and doing stuff out in the fields." He paused and pointed to the half flooded planted field to the north. "You know there can't be but five to ten percent of that crop left and what there is shows heavy damage. If the whole world is like this, then…" He stopped and shook his head.

"Is there enough time to replant?" Ramsey asked, knowing Angus would know the answer.

Angus shook his head, "No, at least not the main crops we are used to seeing. Besides, with as cool as it is, the corn and soybeans that are left won't do well either. Potatoes will rot in such wet soil, so they are out until things dry up too." He paused as he thought back to the battered buildings they had passed to get to where they were, "And if all the places took the kind of hit we have been seeing, then greenhouses are gone. There is a chance to get some things, like radishes, turnips, carrots, spinach, and maybe even snow peas planted and turned around since they are fast growing. But the real problem is, we will need grains for animals and that is not going to happen till next year. We also need to get enough to grow to have seeds ready for this fall so we can plant winter wheat again and have other seeds ready for next year. We sure won't be able to go buy seed for the next year or two.

"The good thing is…" Angus paused and shook his head, "If anything good can be said about any of this, it would be we were able to do our winter wheat harvesting early since we had such a warm March and April. So did many around us who had winter wheat fields. Dad said it was a sign of the global warming thing, but didn't argue since we were able to get all our fields harvested with a really good crop. We were getting ready to turn our fields around which was a bit early this year and why I missed a full week of school there at the end. This should mean there is plenty of grain around and many of the silos are probably full. People who know what they are doing need to get out there and repair storage areas before weather ruins what was harvested. Even if that goes well, food is going to be sparse this year."

The sheriff let out a long breath, "Except there aren't nearly as many people to feed. If we do what you just recommended, and ration carefully, we should be able to make it through while we plant those things you say could be grown."

Finally the man turned to look at Ramsey, "How about you? Where do you fit into this rather well rounded team?"

"I'm the asthmatic wimp."

"Don't listen to him." Gage fired back in his normal totally undiplomatic way. "He builds remote controlled cars and planes from scratch!"

"And him fixed my PS2 so I have some kind of game system at my house," Vernon added quickly.

Angus also spoke up, "Plus he can shoot, even if he doesn't really like to. When we went deer hunting last winter he bagged both his and mine since I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Heck I fired like ten shots at the one army guy and only hit like two times and he was right in front of me."

"Eight shots and three hits," Gage corrected Angus. "And you were shooting at his leg to bypass the body armor and shot fast so you did OK."

Angus turned to Gage and spoke with a great deal of authority. "And you shot once and nailed the guy in the turret with a headshot, so don't go saying I did OK! You're the one who really did the good work out there and gave us a chance to wake up and realize it was us or them."

The sheriff didn't want to let the change in conversation get too far away from Ramsey but was impressed by the way the others in the group always seemed to come to the defense of their friends. He also realized the firefight, even as brief as it was, had changed all the kids who had been out there. They had not only saved his grandkids, but had also bonded in a way much tighter than average friends. In simple terms, they had a harder edge and were not about to let anyone talk bad about those with them.

The Sheriff focused back in on Ramsey, "You knowing tech stuff is going to be just as important as what the rest of your buddies know. Being able to hunt and shoot is also very helpful. You may have asthma, but that does not stop you from being a valuable contributor to the world we now find ourselves in."

Seeing the boy was not totally convinced, he glanced up back down the tracks toward the body hang out the window, "Let's go see if your buddy can get this train started."

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