Coldheart and Iron: Part 29

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


By the end of the day, we were all set up in our new homes. The Nomads had been taken to a series of houses in one of the older neighborhoods and my Wayfinders and I were given a small commune near the center of the enclave. It wasn’t as nice as the homes the Nomads had, but we shared a kitchen and a bunch of common living areas so we got to stay together as a group. I let everyone fight it out over who got which room while I worked with Natalie, Lucas, and Camille to get our maps and plans up to date.

Camille and Lucas were going to lead groups to raid the Bandit staging areas while Natalie coordinated groups of Enclave defenders who would go after the munitions depots she’d marked. I was going to serve as the coordinator, managing the messengers between each group and making sure our groups never accidentally found each other while looking for Bandits. Over dinner, we shared our plans with the rest of the Wayfinders and started making plans for later that evening. Now that we had a base and reliable terrain, we’d be able to easily move around at night so we could start using the darkness to our advantage.

After dinner, Natalie and I took our maps and information to head of the Enclave defenders while Camille and Lucas rested. The Enclave defense council was a small group consisting of a couple of retired Wayfinders and some people who had been in the National Guard back before the Collapse, but they worked like a well-oiled machine with none of the politics or arguing we were using to seeing in other Enclave councils. As soon as Natalie stepped in the door, someone was debriefing us, making copies of our maps, providing us with larger, more detailed maps, and adjusting plans they’d already made to account for the information we provided.

Four hours later, after a rush of discussions, debates, and arguments about how to best deploy the forces we had, I left Natalie to finish up organizing the munition runs while I went back to our compound to rouse the Wayfinders for their first mission.

It was a relatively simple one, but it was probably the most dangerous mission we’d planned for the next few days. I filled Camille and Lucas in on the details before sending them off to finish their preparations and meet the additional soldiers they’ve have under their command. A short while later, I sent the rest of the Wayfinders after them, so it was just Tiffany and I left in the compound. While Tiffany puttered around, trying to keep herself busy while everyone else was off on their mission, I settled in for a quick nap on a couch that felt softer than a thick pile of clouds, trying to make up for the sleep I’d been sacrificing. I had been avoiding the bed because I was certain I’d never want to leave it after sleeping on a cot or the ground for the past ten years. However, Natalie walked into the compound before I managed to do more than start to doze.

“Marshall?”

“Mmm?” I covered my eyes with and arm and peered out from underneath it at her. “What?”

“There’s work you need to do, yet. No times for naps right now.”

I hauled myself to my feet and tried to clear the sleep from my head. “What’s going on?”

“One of the scientists on the council wants to talk to you about low-frequency signals and something about a clamp. I didn’t realize he was talking to me right away so I didn’t catch all the details, but it’s pretty clear he’s got something going on in terms of communication that he wants to discuss with you as the coordinator.”

“Oh.” I hauled myself to my feet and felt my back cry out in sadness. “I suppose I’d better get over there.” I shuffled over to the door where I’d hung up my snowsuit and boots. “Anything else come up?”

“No.” Natalie sat down next to me and started stripping off her boots. “Seems pretty straight-forward. I helped them update their maps and got a tablet with all of their information on it to peruse tonight. I’ll do some checking against my maps to see if there’s anything I overlooked or can add to their local info.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I zipped up the legs of my suit and then stuck my feet into my boots. I’d had them for about five years and only constant care at every Enclave we stopped at kept them insulated and waterproof, but it was worth the money because they were the most comfortable things I’d ever worn on my feet. After burying my feet between the cushions of that couch for a while, though, they felt like they were made of iron. “Thirty minutes on a couch and I’m already going soft again.”

“Did you touch one of the beds yet?”

“No, I’d never leave.”

“I almost made that mistake. I managed to get out of my room in time, though.”

“I’d have had to come get you.” I smirked up at Natalie as I laced up my boots.

“That would have been even worse! Then we’d both have been stuck.” Natalie smiled down at me and winked. “Just awful.”

“I can think of worse things than getting stuck in bed with you.” I sat up and leaned over to give Natalie a kiss. As I did, I caught sight of Tiffany in the kitchen who was smirking as she watched us. I froze, mid-lean.

“Don’t stop on my account. You two are adorable.”

Since I wasn’t moving, frozen like a deer in the headlights, Natalie chuckled “If you insist.” She leaned over the rest of the way and kissed me. I recovered in time to participate, but I felt my face heat as Tiffany laughed.

“Did you really think you two were a secret, Captain?”

I stood up and zipped up my snowsuit to buy myself a couple of seconds. Once I’d mastered my expression, I turned back to Tiffany and Natalie, who was smiling up at me from her seat with her boots off and her snowsuit only partially unzipped. “Yes, I did. I thought we did a good job of keeping it under wraps.”

“Please. It’s obvious. I bet half the Enclave already knows.”

I sighed and shook my head. “What else haven’t I noticed?”

“That you should hurry up and talk to that scientist! He’s in the command building.” Natalie shooed me towards the door as I opened my mouth to protest. “We can talk about this more once we’re finished helping the Enclave and all settled in, now get.”

“Love you.” I smiled at Natalie and watched Tiffany make fake retching motions behind her. Natalie blew me another kiss and I hurried out the door. It took me a few minutes to get back to the Enclave defense headquarters since it was after dark now, but I found it eventually and made my way inside.

After wiping my boots off, I made my way into the main room where the council and their aides were pacing around a few large tables full of maps and papers. In one of the alcoves, most of which were filled with runners taking naps while waiting for a message to carry, a heavyset man with long hair pulled up in a neat bun waved at me. I walked over to him and sat down in one of the chairs he cleared off.

“Captain! I’ve got some important information for you!”

I sat silently for a moment, waiting for him to go on, but he didn’t say anything else. After a few more awkward moments of silence I nodded. “Sounds great. What is it?”

“Since you’re going to run the communications operation for us, I thought I’d give you the rundown on the comm system I invented.” The man leaned forward and help out a paper booklet. I took it from him and started glancing through it as he spoke.

“We have short-range radios for you to use. Effective communication radius is only one mile and we can’t have more than four active at a time, but it’ll be enough for you to follow the groups you’re managing and then send any information back to a bunch of runners closer to the Enclave. If we have more than four, then the signal would be strong enough to be noticed by the monsters. You also can’t be inside when you’re using them but you can be on the ground. In fact, don’t use them outside the city or above the fifth floor of any building because then it’s more likely they’ll pick up your transmissions.”

The scientist held out four walkie-talkies and pointed to the dials on the top. “Simple channel selection, though never use anything above channel ten or else you’ll attract monsters.  They work just like walkie-talkies from before the collapse, so make sure to watch out for people holding the button down for too long.”

I looked through the booklet for the section on channels and saw a more detailed version of what he just said. Instead of reading it, I looked up at him. “Why are there more than ten channels if anything above ten attracts monsters?”

“Since these communicate in bursts, some of our defense forces use them to silently attract monsters to a location so they don’t have to fight whatever bandits are around. The higher you go above ten, the further the signal reaches.” The man pointed to the booklet. “You can find approximate mileage numbers in there if you want. Additionally, they only have a battery life of two days, so don’t plan on being out for very long, and they have a tendency to chase away animals with better hearing than Humans so don’t expect to find any animal life while you’re out and they’re on.”

“Got it.” I looked at my booklet and then at the walkie-talkies. “How is it possible that the monsters don’t just pick these up immediately? I thought they detected almost every signal we knew of.”

“They detect all signals we know of, not most.”

“That’s beside the point.” I leaned forward and grabbed the walkie-talkies out of his hand. “How do they not pick these up immediately?”

“High-frequencies don’t go very far before the air just causes them to fade out. There’s a lot more to the science of why, but that’s essentially it. These use high frequencies, thus the short battery life and potential to scare away animals, and while the signals extend past the one mile range, they don’t make it past two miles. Our scouting reports have all of the local monsters staying on the north side of the city, so you should have at least fifteen miles between your theater of operations and the nearest monster. If, for whatever reason, the monsters detect your signals, you can just leave and they’ll attack the bandits instead.”

“I think I get it.” I picked set all of the walkie-talkies aside and closed the booklet. “Is there anything else you wanted to discuss?”

“Just don’t use the monster attracting signals for the next few days. Based on the monster wander patterns our scouts have put together, they’d walk right through the Enclave if they noticed you.”

“Got it.” I stood up and stuffed the walkie-talkies and booklet into a pocket on the front of my snowsuit. “Thank you.” I held out my hand. “I’m sorry we didn’t do introductions earlier. I’m Marshall. The only people who call me Captain are the Wayfinders under my command.”

“Oh, well, I’m Horace, head comms scientist. The barrier was my idea and I appreciate you volunteering your time and skills to help us defend our home as we get it working.” He stood and shook my hand firmly. “I hope the radios work out for you.”

“Thanks.” I pumped his hand, gave him a midwestern awkward smile, and then quickly left the building. As I headed back toward the Wayfinder commune, I absently touched the radios in my pocket. It was weird to think that we’d not only be using these as a part of our operations for the next few days but that we’d also be able to use stuff like these as soon as the barrier went up. I hadn’t used any kind of remote communication device in fifteen years, since we discovered the monsters could find any signals. Some people in enclaves still used hardline telephones, but all of those were wired and heavily shielded and they only worked inside the Enclave since no one was willing to spend the years it’d take to bury new shielded cables from one Enclave to another.

My head was filled with memories of last people I’d talked to on a cell phone before the satellites and towers when down during the collapse as I walked into the commune and hour after I left. I was so distracted it took me a moment to register what I was seeing. The common area was filled with Wayfinders again, all sitting around the living area still in their snowsuits and boots as Lucas and Camille paced. Natalie sat off to the side, pouring over the tablet she’d gotten, and Tiffany sat with her, flipping through a book of some kind.

“What’s going on?” I paused in the entryway, not bothering to take off my snowsuit or boots.

“Our mission failed.” Camille stopped pacing and shrugged.

Lucas, still pacing and angrier than I’d seen him in a long time, turned his head toward me as he stalked around the coffee table. “It didn’t fail. There was just no one there. You can’t take out Bandit leadership if the entire bandit army you’re expecting to find has suddenly just left the city.

“Left the city?” I took a step forward. “Does the Enclave defense council know about this?”

“We just got back. Their scouts found out the same time we did.” Camille held her arms behind her back. “All the signs Lucas could find pointed to them moving out during the day today and heading west, out of the city. A few groups splintered off the main force, but they probably didn’t break fifty Bandits, total. The main force of a couple thousand just left.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Lucas snarled and stopped pacing. “And now we’re going to sit tight here while we wait for the defense council to figure it’s shit out and decide what to do instead of chasing them down and trying to figure out why they left.”

“Oh.” I kicked the snow off my boots and pulled the walkie-talkies out of my pocket. “In the meantime, have a radio. One for you, Camille, one for Lucas, one for me, and one for Tiffany.” Tiffany looked up from her book, excitement in her eyes. “Yeah, there’s gonna be a group of runners I’ll be communicating with and you get to be my voice with them. One hand shouldn’t impede you there.”

Everyone took their radios, but Lucas looked at his like it was a grenade while I briefly outlined the rules Horace had given me and pulled out the booklet. “If you’ve got any further questions, wait until after I’ve read the manual. Once I’m done, I’ll put it on the coffee table. Everyone got it?”

I watched everyone nod, even Lucas, and was about to head over to talk to Natalie when someone knocked at the door. I turned around, ignoring the chatter breaking out behind me as people remembered that most people don’t just walk into other people’s homes, and walked back to the door. I opened it and gestured for the messenger to step inside.

“Sorry to bother you, Captain, but the Enclave defense council has requested you and your officer’s immediately.”

I nodded and gestured behind me. “What’s this about?”

“I don’t know, but they said it was important and you were to report immediately.” the woman saluted and stepped back. “I’ve got a few more people to tell. Please head over right away.”

“Of course.” I opened the door again and closed it behind her. “Three times in twelve hours. This is a busy day.”

“Speak for yourself.” Lucas walked over and grabbed Natalie’s snowsuit and boots. “All I’ve had to do today is make some fun plans and go on a long walk. It’s about time something happened.” He tossed the suit to Natalie and then handed her the boots. “I just hope it isn’t another false alarm.”

Five minutes later, we entered the defense council hall to find everyone running around and shouting over each other as messengers darted in and out of the building. One of the retired Wayfinders, Gerry, walked up to us when we did our best to get out of everyone’s way.

“Thank god you’re here, Marshall. We need you to gather up every Wayfinder you can get, retired or active.” He was standing so close our boots were almost touching and he still had to shout to be heard.

“What’s going on?” Natalie, Camille, and Lucas leaned in.

“Someone started broadcasting a radio signal from the top of one of the walls. It was an old, battery-operated ham radio and it was pointed north, right toward where the monsters have been the last few days.” I could see the panic in Gerry’s eyes as he spoke and I felt Natalie and Lucas stiffen beside me.

“How? When?”

“We don’t know for sure, yet. I suspect it was the bandits, since they all so conveniently disappeared today, but no one saw anything. We got the first report a couple minutes after you left and it wouldn’t have been long before then that it was discovered. We’ve got patrols on the wall that pass every ten minutes, so it didn’t sit there for very long either. It doesn’t need to be long, though. A ham radio is easily picked up by any monster, so we expect to see them in one or two hours.”

“I knew it.” Lucas took a deep breath and sighed. “Shit.”

“I’ll start rousing everyone I can. It’ll take more than an hour to look up all the Wayfinders who retired here, though.” I looked to Natalie for confirmation and she nodded. “There should be a lot, though.”

“That’s fine. Just hurry. We’ve got a group leave in ten minutes to do the most they can to delay the monsters, but it might not buy us much time. Just send them here and we’ll get them all sorted into units.”

“On it.” I nodded to Camille and Natalie. As we all headed toward the door, I turned to Lucas. “Go rouse the commune and get everyone down to the Wayfinder barracks we used yesterday. I want you to grab every gun, bullet, and explosive you can find. Bring it all back to the commune and start setting it up as a command center. I’ll have all the Wayfinders report to you first so we can set up our own units and communications. It’ll take some of the load off Gerry.”

“Yes, sir.” Lucas saluted and ran off as soon as he was out the door. I jogged to catch up to Natalie and Camille as we made our way toward the small Wayfinder office we maintained for tracking pay and resource acquisition in every Enclave. All of our records would be there and, thanks to Natalie being the designer or our organization system, Camille and I would be able to start knocking on doors right away.

The walls would be able to hold out the monsters for a couple hours, at least, but dawn would probably bring fighting in the streets unless the defense forces managed to delay them long enough or we managed to get a bunch of Wayfinders right away. Every defense force trained in killing monsters, but no one could kill monsters as quickly and efficiently as a Wayfinder, even if they’d been in retirement for a few years. If we could get a hundred Wayfinders set up with guns and enough ammunition, then it would only be a question of time before the monster army fell. The only real problem I saw was whether or not the Enclave would survive long enough.