Chapter 1- Point of Departure
It was a beautiful April day but Thomas Ross knew that something was wrong. His father, an epidemiologist for the CDC, was attached to the Air Force Academy as an instructor. He had been out of town for the last two weeks. They talked every night and Thomas could feel something in his Dad’s voice that he was completely unaccustomed to: fear. Something very serious was going on and he couldn’t talk about it.
At 10:00am, just in time to catch him between classes, his cell phone vibrated. He looked at the called ID and answered, “Pop! Are you coming home?”
“Listen to me very carefully Tommy. Get your brother Jimmy and go home. I want you to open an email that is waiting for you, read it and do what it says. Don’t ask why. I can’t tell you anything now but you’ve got to get out of the city RIGHT NOW. Do you understand son?”
Tom remembered to breathe and answered, “Yes Sir. I’ll be home in 10 minutes.”
His father said, “I know I can count on you Tom. Follow the script and I’ll call again at 1800 your time. I have to go son. I’ll talk to you this evening.”
Tom hung up his phone. What on earth? He went down the hall to Mr. Carter’s freshman English class and said, “Mr. Carter, I need my brother. My Dad has asked us to go home- we’ve got a family emergency.”
The no-nonsense English teacher looked at Thomas and read his expression in an instant. He said, “OK Tommy. I hope everything is OK.”
Jimmy heard family emergency, grabbed his backpack and was out the door like a shot. “Tommy, what is it? Are Mom and Dad OK?”
Tom said, “I don’t know for sure. Pop called me and said get to the house right now. There’s an email waiting for us at home that will fill us in so let’s get to the office and get checked out.”
Jimmy looked at his watch, “It’ll be at least an hour before we can call Mom. Maybe she can tell us something.”
As they rushed to the office to sign out, Tommy said, “We’ll know soon enough.”
They got to the office and the fat old office lady gave them about five minutes worth of guff about their family emergency until Principal Walker came out of his office. He had never known either one of the Ross brothers to play that sort of game. “Your Mother just called me. You’re both excused and I hope everything turns out OK.”
Tom said, “Thank you sir” on the way out. They took off towards Tom’s Toyota truck sitting in the junior parking lot. Within ten minutes from getting the call they were leaving the school grounds and heading to their house.
On the way Thomas had a thought, “Hey Jimmy, turn on the radio. Get a news channel and let’s see what’s happening.”
After quickly scanning the radio stations the all news channel came on:
This is Robert Hanes reporting from Hafia in Israel. We have unconfirmed reports that the mysterious illness that has been packing area hospitals has been identified as a strain of smallpox.
Other outbreaks have been reported in Tel Aviv and, Jerusalem. We can only conclude that this is not a natural outbreak and that the country has been struck by a very serious act of bioterrorism. Heavy fighting has broken out in the occupied territories of Gaza and the Golan Heights.
Israel has ordered a full mobilization…
Jimmy said, “Oh my God.”
This is Brent Keller with the Independence Battle Group in the Indian Ocean. About five minutes ago this battle group was attacked by Iranian cruise missiles and aircraft. There was a nuclear detonation and apparently the USS Shiloh was lost with all hands…
Thomas exclaimed, “Jesus. No wonder Dad wanted us out of the city. Colorado Springs has to be a prime target.”
With the realization that it was a matter of life or death, Thomas floored the accelerator and they pulled into their driveway two and a half minutes later.
They both rushed into Thomas’s room and opened his email. He clicked a message from his Dad but it was encrypted.
Thomas said, “It’s asking for a password. What’s the password?”
Jimmy said, “What does Pop call you?”
The email opened and the boys read what they had been dreading.
I’ve been working with the Dept. of Homeland Security and we know that a very serious attack on the United States is imminent. I want the two of you to quickly pack and go to our cabin in the mountains but you need to move out now. I’ve got supplies laid in up there; you’ll be fine for quite some time. Check the emergency directory on the computer up there for further instructions. When this starts, the National Guard will shut down the roads as soon as they get their act together. Print out the attachment- it’s an emergency travel pass. Take the Hummer. Get into the storage room and take the four big olive drab boxes there. You’ll need them.
Your Mom and I have already talked about this. We both have jobs to do. She’s the ER doc at the Hospital and I’ve got my own work to do. We know that our family is safe and out of harms way so we can do what we have to do.
We’ve also made arrangements with The Farmers and the Lee’s. Bobby and Ronny Farmer and Brian Lee are going with you. They should be arriving at the house any minute.
Tommy- you’re in charge. Get to the cabin and hunker down. I’ll contact you there at 1800 this evening. Now get to it boys. I’m counting on you.
The two brothers just stood there for a few seconds completely astonished. Jimmy started shaking and Tom grabbed his shoulder, “Keep it together Jimmy- we’ve got work to do. Let’s pack our stuff from our rooms. Wear your gray BDUs and boots. Come on- let’s move like we’ve got a purpose!” The two brothers went about their assigned tasks.
Tom put his brain on autopilot. He was dressed in two minutes and pulled out a big duffle and shoved it full of socks, underwear, jeans, shirts and some shoes.
Brian Lee was Jimmy’s best friend and a good kid. His Dad was a senior instructor at the Air Force Academy and a military brat just like Tom and his Jimmy. Why on earth did he get stuck with the Farmer twins? The contrast between the three short-haired military brats and the “Flower Children” as Tom thought of them couldn’t be more glaring.
Tom had about as much in common with the Farmer twins with their shoulder length hair and guitars as he did with a rock star: they might just as well have come from a different planet. The twin’s father, Doctor Farmer worked with Tom’s Mother so there was some connection. Tom saw them as being about as disciplined as a basket full of puppies and at least that much trouble. They would be loads of fun but Tom had no idea how they would hold up under stress.
When he finished packing clothes, he looked around his room and started grabbing things he thought might be useful: A mag-light, a Leatherman multi-tool, Swiss army knife, his laptop, a small toolkit, his battery stash, and an album full of his CDs and DVDs. He did a last look around and tossed his school backpack into the duffle, zipped it up and headed to the garage. On the way through the kitchen he grabbed the keys to the Hummer off his Mom’s key rack.
The garage was empty except for the bulk of the mighty HummVee. He unlocked the back of the Hummer and went into the storage room. In the back of the room there were four large olive drab military style crates. He grabbed one to move it and realized very quickly that it weighed upwards of 100 pounds. Rather than break his back he grabbed a hand truck and one by one moved the heavy boxes and put them in the back of the Hummer.
Before he finished loading the last one Jimmy showed up loading his duffle and a couple of boxes. Tom snorted, “You get your whole room?”
Jimmy said, “I don’t wanna face the end of the world without my X-box.”
Tom loaded the last box and said, “Let’s do a walk through and grab anything else we might need”. The two of them made another run through the house.
Jimmy asked, “What about food?”
“Dad said the cabin was stocked. We’ll stop on the way and get some fresh stuff.”
Tom had a thought. He ran upstairs and got into his Dad’s gun safe. He took a Baretta 9mm for himself and three clips and a Browning Hi-Power for his brother. No telling what kind of insanity they would run into on the road. As he was finishing up he heard the doorbell.
He went downstairs and saw Jimmy hustling the Farmer twins and Brian toward the Hummer and loading their stuff.
Tom put the Baretta into a shoulder holster and put a jacket on. He pulled his brother aside and discretely handed him the Browning. Jimmy‘s eyes widened when he took the gun and stuffed it under his belt.
Tom said quietly, “Just in case Bro.”
Tom said loudly, “Let’s hit the road before the National Guard shuts everything down. Everybody ready?”
Jimmy looked scared but nodded. Ronny Farmer was still stashing the twin’s guitar cases in the cargo net and said, “No but who is ever ready for WWIII?”
Nobody laughed but they all piled into the Hummer and Tom exited the garage.
He stopped just outside and handed the keys to his Toyota to Jimmy. “Put my truck in the garage Bro.”
Jimmy always loved to get a chance to drive his brother’s truck. He eagerly grabbed the keys to the Toyota and jumped out of the cab and parked Tom’s truck in the safety of the garage.
As soon as they collected Jimmy, Tom took off. Traffic wasn’t too bad and it only took them a few minutes to negotiate the roads to Route 24 North-West out of town.
Jimmy turned the radio on in the Hummer just in time for top of the hour news at eleven o’clock. The Middle East was on fire. Israel seemed to be fighting everyone. American naval battle groups in the Med, Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean were fighting for their lives. Apparently Iran was making a huge move to close the Persian Gulf and was throwing everything they had at the navy. Iranian troops had entered Iraq and there were fighting American forces on the ground near Basra. Syria had attacked in both directions against Iraq and the Golan Heights.
For the first time that he could ever remember, Tom was driving a vehicle with 5 teenagers listening to the news and hanging on every word.
A little further down the road Tom’s phone rang. It was his Mom. “Did you kids get away OK?”
“Yes Ma’am, we just passed Cascade. We should be at the cabin in a couple of hours.”
“Good. Your Dad and I want you and the other boys to go up to the cabin and lay low for a while until things calm down here. We’ll try to keep in touch as best as we can but things are pretty crazy right now.”
Tom asked, “Mom, what’s going on?” For some reason his voice sounded like he was 10.
“I don’t know Tommy but I need you to be the man right now. I want you to take care of Jimmy and the other boys. Can you do that for me?” Tom could tell her voice was on the edge of tears.
“I’ll take care of business for you Mom.”
“That’s my Tommy. Hand the phone to your brother and I’ll talk to you soon.”
Jimmy talked to his Mom quietly for a few minutes and hung up. He handed the phone to Brian and said, “Call your folks while we’re still in range of a good cell tower.
Brian had a short conversation with his Dad and the Farmer twins called their father. After the phone made the rounds, everything got real quiet except for the solemn tones of the various reporters on the radio.
.The boys rode along silently until Bobby Farmer couldn’t stand it anymore and said, “Am I the only one scared shitless, guys?”
Jimmy sighed and said, “Ever since this started all I’ve done is just try to get the next thing done. Now- just riding, I want to climb the walls or something.”
Brian said, “Yeah. I’m scared too. I’m just glad our parents had a plan. Where are we going anyway?”
Tom answered, “My Grand Dad had some land in the mountains. He built the place back in the sixties and retired there. When he passed away my Dad got the land and the house. Over the past few years we’ve been working on it. We go hunting and skiing up there. We’re about an hour and a half out.”
Ronny Farmer said, “I have an idea. Let’s pretend that none of this crap is happening and we’re going camping.”
Jimmy said, “Well, Grandpa’s house is a lot more comfortable than camping. It’s more like our folks are away for a while and we’ve got the house to ourselves.”
Bobby Farmer asked, “What is it like?”
Jimmy said, “Well it’s got two stories, four bed rooms and a big basement. There is a barn on the property which serves as a garage behind the house. Its on top of a tall ridge that overlooks a lake in the valley below. It is surrounded by about 100 acres of hilly pine forest. There are all kinds of animals in those woods—deer, wildcats and stuff. It’s high enough that there will still be snow packs here and there but they won’t last long.”
Brian asked, “What about power?”
Tom replied, “There’s a diesel generator in case the power goes out. That happens a lot during the winter.”
Bobby asked, “Is it near anything?”
Tom said, “The closest little town is twelve miles away. Look guys- we’re coming up on Woodland Park. I think we’ll stop for food, and get some stuff at the Wal-Mart super-center and hit up an ATM for some cash and get under way.”
Jimmy said, “Food? I thought you said the cabin is stocked.”
Tom said, “Yeah, with MREs.”
Bobby asked, “What’s an MRE?”
Jimmy said, “Meals Wretched to Eat. Good call on the Wal-Mart Bro. We don’t want to waste any time. Let’s hit the Wal-Mart first, then the drive through at a Whataburger or a Jack-in-the-Box.”
Tom replied, “Good plan.”
They rolled into Woodland Park and found the Wal-Mart Super Center. The boys piled out of the Hummer and made a hasty run through the Wal-Mart.
Tom cursed to himself that he had forgotten to take an ice chest from the house so he bought a large, cheap Styrofoam one. They purchased hot dogs, lunch meat, bread, buns, hamburger meat, chips and several cases of sodas. In addition to food, they bought supplies like batteries and a good radio. All told, they bought about $230 worth of stuff and still had the nagging feeling that they were forgetting something critical.
When they got their stuff out to the Hummer, they put the groceries in the ice chest that needed to stay cool and got underway. Tom stopped at an ATM in the WalMart parking lot and all five boys got as much cash as they dared. They stopped at a nearby Jack-in-the-Box drive through and ordered lunch to go and ate on the road.
They left Woodland Park a few minutes after 12:30 and headed West down Route 24. The radio continued to talk about the events of the morning but nothing worse had happened.
Twenty miles out of Woodland Park they met a huge National Guard convoy headed the opposite direction composed of Hummers, deuce and a half trucks and even tank carriers.
A little over an hour later Tom took a secondary road and headed south. Signs of civilization gave way to a hilly pine forests and the road climbed towards the highlands. Twenty minutes up the road Tom took a left onto a county road that snaked its way up the ridge. Ten minutes later, he pulled into a gate at the end of the road. He opened his window and keyed the security code into the keypad and the gate opened.
He drove up a dirt road and around a big hill and between a pine grove and the house. He punched the garage door opener and the barn door opened-up. He pulled the Hummer inside and shut off the engine.
“We’re here guys. Let’s unload the Hummer and move into the house. I’ll need help with the heavy boxes in the back. They are bound for the basement. First let’s get our things inside and then the groceries.”
The boys piled out of the truck and took their bags to the house.