E buttoned up the range, checked the security system and grabbed Sam’s reins. He gave her “the look” from his left eye as she firmly placed her booted foot in the stirrup and swung her right leg over his back, settled into the saddle, secured her ’94 lever action .45 Colt into its scabbard and started off towards Brad’s office.
“Hang in there Sam – just going to see the sheriff. We’ll have you back in the barn in an hour or so.”
Sam left out a sharp snort – as if to say he’d heard that crap before. Still, a firm press of E’s thighs worked Sam up from a quickened walk through a trot and easily into a canter. No need to rush, the mile or so to the sheriff’s office was clear and safe.
Something about the phrase “what’s old is new again” popped into her mind as she rode across the bridge just north of town. All along the street parking places had been replaced by hitching posts and horses. It’s not that various fuels weren’t available – they were expensive, nearly $50 per gallon for gasoline, $45 for diesel, $70 for “bio-diesel” and while natural gas was the cheapest at around $15 per cubic foot – with the job situation being what it is, even that was a true luxury.
So, the people had reverted to a truly bio-friendly mode of transportation – the horse. It was an easy transition really. Long distance trips were not that frequent, even in areas where raiders were rare. The Midwest had broad areas that easily reverted to grasslands as calls for traditional crops of corn and beans (at least in E’s region of the country) diminished. Life slowed – perhaps one of the few blessings of “the slide”.
Fifteen minutes at a slow canter saw her draw up in front of the sheriff’s office. E dismounted - a quick Highwayman’s Hitch made sure Sam wouldn’t wander off towards some of the mares just down the block. She stretched and walked through the door into the outer lobby. Obviously a quiet day – she could see him hunched over his desk, the end of his pencil held lightly in his mouth.
“Hey hun – why the serious face?” she asked with a smile.
Brad looked up and greeted her with the same grin that made her fall in love with him over 40 years earlier. “Where to start?” he grumbled – “Shift schedules to review and revise, inventory to update, ammo manufacturing to review, defenses to tighten up . . . . take your pick sweetie.” Still, the grin remained and that gave her comfort. It was much more welcome that the grim faces during the hard times all those 40 years in the past.
“Was that you and Willie bangin’ away earlier?” he asked, his eyebrow in a “spockesque” cant. Did anyone even know who Spock was anymore E wondered?
“Yep, the girl is a natural. Ran the whole drill, sub five minutes without a single miss. She tapped the 500 yard target as easily as though it were at the 50. Hell, it’s getting that I can’t even see – or barely hear for that matter – the 500 yard plate. She’s quick and deadly.”
“I wanted such a different life for her” said Brad – just a bit of his age was showing around the edges. “A sixteen year old girl should not have the distinction of being our best sniper – it feels unseemly . . . .” He just let the sentence hang out there for a bit.
“Yep, I agree” said E. “Yet, it’s the hand we – and she – was dealt. She’s OK, I’m watching her close. We’ve not seen swarms in her lifetime. Even reinforced raids have only showed up a handful of times in the last 15 years. This last year – only that raiding party in March – and there were only 30 or so of them. She did her job, looked at the bodies and understood it was them or her and her family. She’s a strong kid.” E had long since reconciled the issues of life and death in her mind. The swarms took care of that. You fought or died. You killed every raider. You gave no quarter. And she had taught her granddaughter well.
“I know hun, I know. Guess I’m still just a softie.” Brad wasn’t though – they both knew that. They met during the second swarm raid ending up in the same fighting position, it ended with knives and hatchets – their magazines empty at their feet. They went in 20 year old kids – and came out essentially husband and wife. There are other bonds of matrimony – few as strong as mortal combat. They had been together ever since.
“I read the intel this morning – seems the “big three” are stirring up some trouble for us again.” A wrinkle of concern creased her forehead – inherited from her grandmother who had what the family had called the “nose wrinkle”. It meant the same thing – E wanted answers.
“I had a short QSO with our sources in all three locations. Two of the raiding parties are about the same size as the one who made it here in March – thirty-ish. The one out of St. Louis started larger, around a hundred riders. They picked some bad fights though – they’ve been hurt. They just keep coming though, not sure what that’s all about but its cut their size about in half. We’ll see a scout or two soon. Then maybe we’ll find out what’s going on. All three parties are hungry, desperate and only moderately armed – mostly lever action rifles, revolvers and a couple high power bolt action rifles. Our sources saw absolutely no “black guns”. I suspect parts and ammunition is still decreasing. We only had one pickup from March – and it was in pretty bad shape.”
“How are we doing?” Her spreadsheets popping up in her mind – one of her many gifts. She knew, within a couple percentage points, what her fighting resources were.
“The armory is just working one shift – five days a week. We’ve been lucky with the inventory of community weapons as well as individual firearms – we’re in good shape. If this party of raiders gets this far – perhaps we’ll be able to add to our stores a bit.”
“Our ammunition manufacturing is keeping up with demand. Your tight round count for training helps. Nothing wasted. We’ve been able to trade some cattle for a couple ton of lead and a couple hundred pounds of scrap tin this year – that helps. It seems that powder manufacturing is picking up in “Free Wyoming” – we’ll send a party out there after this next winter. We’re OK E, just need to be careful.” Brad leaned back and took in his wife of forty plus years. She was as lean, tough and beautiful as the day the fates had thrown them together in that god awful hell. He was lucky to have her – and he knew it.
E nodded and let out a sigh. “Just checking. Willie and Fred are going to have a look-see southwest to see if they can pick up a scout or two. I pray they head west – “Free Wyoming” has to have a lot of the raiders licking their chops. Still, I’ll tighten things up a bit. How far out do our sources think they are?”
“’bout a week to ten days. They’re on horseback – that slows them down considerably and limits their supplies. The fights they’ve picked helps too. Hell, if they’d put their back into it – they could make do on their own down around St. Louis. I simply do not understand this need to raid – I truly don’t.”
E shook her head “nor do I love. It’s simply evil – pure and simple. And when faced with evil . . . well, you kill it. Period. When they stop comin’, we’ll stop killin’. Until then, we’ll tend our weapons and our crops.” And, with a big breath, she turned on her heel and headed for the door.
“Don’t be late – I have a nice venison roast in the Dutch oven. It’ll be ready by 6PM.
Sam gave E a bit of a nicker as she mounted and headed out to “the farm”. This was still the Midwest – they had farms, not ranches. “Busy day, busy day” she thought, going to be nice to kick off the boots and put my feet up after dinner!” she thought. The press of her thighs brought Sam to the same moderate canter both were used to as she headed out of town.
Looking at her watch E confirmed she had long since lost her bet with Willie. “Wonder if I can still rip off 20?? Perhaps a bit of a race with Ms. Willie” she thought with a smile.
Twenty minutes later found Sam in his stall brushed and picked for the night. Her tack was hung in the tack room and a scoop of oats and flak of hay satisfied Sam.
Nearly supper time.