READ FROM THE BEGINNING
In the morning, I told everyone as we that we would need to push hard for the next two days in order to make it to our shelter in time to prepare it for the blizzard. There were a few grumbles, but just people venting spleen about an unpleasant task. After I reminded them that they would also be required to help prepare the shelter once we got there, a couple of the nomads and most of the laborers started shouting. One of the nomads tried argue that they should not be expected to keep up and thus should be exempt from a day’s work because they had children to look after. I cut the argument off before they could start gaining steam, letting them know only people who helped with the shelter got to use it, and nomads who had children quickly shushed the two loudmouths without children.
However, the laborers seemed to unite behind the idea of taking their time and refused to let go. As we prepared to set out, since I made it clear the supplies were leaving with the Wayfinders, regardless of what the laborers chose to do, they huddled together and then sent Trevor to talk to me again. I ignored him as best as I could, letting him know I was busy helping the nomads with their children and taking my turn pulling the supply sled, but he finally cornered me when we broke for a quick lunch.
Initially, I planned to let him just run his mouth. Once he’d run out of steam a bit, I let him know the scouts would be arriving there tomorrow morning, as we were starting our day’s hike, and would have the building selected by the time our group got there in the evening. He backed off then, stewing on what I said, and I had most of the afternoon to focus on my tasks. Any time not spent reviewing supply forms or correcting our course was spent taking a turn helping the nomads by carrying one of the two children that wasn’t strong enough to keep up the pace but was too big to constantly carry. Thankfully, being carried helped the two kids keep up the pace by given them a chance to rest, though they were starting to show their complete exhaustion as sunset approached. The laborers were having no trouble keeping up the pace, though they always seemed to be elsewhere when I wanted to enlist one of them to help with something.
About fifteen more minutes of hiking from the campsite the forward scouts had picked for us, Trevor came up to me again. I was at the head of the group, setting the pace and keeping on eye out to make sure no one fell behind. When I looked back, about to let everyone know we would to our campsite with plenty of time to set up before dark, I found Trevor hustling up to me. I turned back to face the front and ignored him until he fell in beside me and nodded.
I nodded back, wary and wishing he could have waited just a little longer, when I’d be too busy setting up camp to talk.
“I want to know why we must be rushed. Won’t two and a half days be plenty of time to prepare?”
I sighed and shook my head. “Possibly. Given the nature of our preparations and the inability to be completely accurate about blizzard predictions, it is best to get as much time as possible.”
“Is the four hours of daylight we’ll gain by pushing hard really help us that much?”
“Yes.” I nodded and resumed my silent march.
After a moment of silence, Trevor turned towards me a little bit and spread his hands. “Please, captain. I’m trying to understand. Could you explain why it matters so much?”
I considered ignoring him, but decided against it. If I could get him to quit arguing, maybe he’d get the rest of the laborers to fall in line. That’d make my life much easier. “Alright, but once we hit our campsite I’ll need to focus on making camp.”
I waited for Trevor to nod and then launched into the basics. “Given that we haven’t taken this route in years and this is the first time we’re stopping at this particular town, I would have preferred to have four days or even five. Given that we lost two days to dealing with bandits, we have no time to spare.”
Trevor blew out a deep breath and snorted. “I find it hard to believe that simply setting up a more stable camp would take three days.”
I shot a glare at him and he held his hands up placatingly. “I know you’ve spent most of your time in enclaves, so I would not be surprised to learn that this is the first blizzard you’ve experienced outside the safety of civilization. Correct?” He nodded slightly and I continued. “Now, I’m sure I don’t need to explain why we need shelter during the blizzards. Anyone old enough to understand the stories knows. However, things work a little differently outside of the enclaves.”
I pulled open one of the large velcro pockets on the front of my thermal jacket and handed a few pieces of laminated paper to him. “Here. This is the list of things we need to survive for an entire blizzard, per person and assuming that the blizzard lasts for ten days. Give it a read.”
As his eyes darted down the page, I continued to talk. “Outside of an enclave, an errant heat signature could give us away. That’s why we have such strict rules about were fires can be located, what you can wear, and why you need to stay in your tents at night. In an enclave, the heat is so oddly shaped and in large enough quantities that it confuses the sensors. They’re safe simply because they’re so big and so warm.
“We are not. Especially during blizzards when the ambient temperature drops to its lowest and any amount of extra heat is going to shine like a beacon.” Trevor looked up at me, his face blank. I smiled at him. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be hunted down and killed. So we hole up, hide our heat signatures, and do what we can to pass time until it is safe for us to go outside again.”
Trevor hadn’t even cycled through the papers, but he handed them back to me. “That sounds like a lot of hassle. If we can predict the day the blizzards will strike an area, why don’t people just make sure to be in an enclave when they pass over? Why risk being outside?”
I shrugged. “People aren’t exactly known for making the most sensible choices all the time. Plus, if we restricted all travel that would encounter a blizzard, we’d be doing at most a third of what we do now. They’re fairly frequent, when you consider how long it takes, on average, to go from one enclave to another.” I stuck the papers back into my pocket and sealed it up. “Like I said, I don’t want to be hunted down and killed, nor do I want anyone in our group to be hunted down and killed, so I’m going to push us as hard as I can today and then do the same tomorrow so we can arrive at the shelter my people have picked out before sundown.
“I would appreciate it if you’d stop questioning me while we’re walking and focus on getting your people in line so I can do my job.” I turned my face to Trevor again and let all of my frustration from the day show on my face. “If you or your companions get in the way of me keeping everyone safe, I will leave you behind. Got it?”
Trevor’s steps faltered for a moment, but he nodded. “Alright, alright. I got it.” He nervously rubbed his gloves together and chuckled. “Now that I know what’s going on, I’ll focus on making sure my people keep up the pace and are ready to work. I don’t think any of us wants to get killed, either.”
I let some of the heat fade from my face and shook my head. “If I have to explain every decision I make, we’re going to wind up dead. Do I what I say when I say it and, if we have some down time and you want to know why, I’ll explain it to you.”
“Sure thing.” Trevor smiled and stuck out his hand. I stared at it and then at his face for a moment before taking it and applying slightly more pressure than was strictly necessary. It was an awkward walking handshake, but Trevor seemed to appreciate it.
“Great. Now go get your people ready and convince them that, if we all just pull together on this, we can have time to rest and relax soon. The better they work together, the sooner it’ll be.”
“Right away, Captain.” Trevor nodded and fell back to the rest of the laborers. I watch him talk to them for a moment before focusing my mind back on the task of arriving at our camp and getting every settled for the night. Once all tasks were finished for the night and both groups had settled in for the night, I took half an hour from my guard shift to go through the supply tent and update the logs.
It was always an ordeal, preparing for the blizzard. We had to collect wood for fires to keep us warm since our little kerosene camp stoves would use up what fuel we had with us in a couple of days if we relied solely on them. Even though a few groups of Wayfinders did nothing but travel Wayfinder routes and replenish the hidden stockpiles we used to make sure guiding groups had enough necessities, we couldn’t take enough to keep us warm that long without leaving nothing for any groups that came after us. Food was a lot easier, though. The constant cold helped preserve most of the stockpiles governments had put together as the collapse was happening thanks to some people who believed the early warning signs. Most canned goods lasted well beyond their shelf dates, as long as they stayed dry.
The only other thing we needed, which was the hardest thing to find, was the right building. Most buildings were properly insulated before the collapse and our thermal hand scanner would find any leaks that had developed since then as soon as we put a heat source inside the building. Thankfully, the standards had been raised right before the collapse and any newer building was almost as dead as the snow around it on the thermal reader, even after we started heating it to look for leaks. There were almost always repairs that needed doing, but insulation and nails or glue never went bad and no Wayfinder was certified without the skills to heat seal a building.
Thankfully, we were good on almost everything but kerosene. The nomads had brought plenty of food, but drained our fuel resources much more quickly than we anticipated. I’d have to send some Wayfinders through the town to look for more fuel, if there was any left. If not, I’d have to send a couple of scouts away from our route to hit a cache somewhere. Natalie had the maps and she would know where to find anything around this town. Hopefully we wouldn’t need to start restricting fuel rations before then.
Once I was finished, I settled in for my guard duty. Hidden beneath the fresh powder that was constantly falling from the sky, I kept an eye on the camp and wished that radios were still usable. Natalie and Lucas had been gone since the morning and the quiet anxiety I always felt when my friends didn’t return to the tent at night clawed at my stomach. Lucas was the best we had at solo survival and Natalie was the head of our resource collection, so I knew they’d be fine between the two of them, not to mention the four other Wayfinders and two trainees with them. Natalie and her trainee would be in charge of finding our shelter and combing the ruined town for food to help us survive the five to ten days we would be stuck in our shelter.
Once my shift was over, and I’d gotten as much sleep as I could before I had to start getting the camp moving again, I steeled myself for another morning of arguments and a certain degree of enthusiasm I didn’t actually feel. As I let my mind work through my morning mantra, I cleaned up from breakfast, packed up my bags, and started taking down the tent. Once I was outside and finishing up the packing, I encouraged the camp to continue doing the same. Camille had gotten up before me and started the Wayfinders on their preparations, so all I had to do was get the laborers and the nomads moving.
Thankfully, the nomads were up and moving already. The laborers took a little work to get going, but they didn’t argue and Trevor took it upon himself to make sure they all got ready quickly. We got underway a full fifteen minutes before I had expected and were on our way with minimal disruption. Trevor had the laborers take turns helping with the nomad children and he even took a turn pulling a supply sled, though none of the other laborers offered.
By the time we arrived at the town and had been brought to the building the scouts had selected, it was just before sunset. Room assignments were given, unused rooms were boarded up, and everyone settled in for their first night in a proper shelter in what felt like over a month. Even the barn hadn’t felt as cozy as the solid building around us. As I fell asleep, I banished all of my usual worries from my mind and reveled in the comfort of good shelter and sleeping beside Natalie once again.