Tabernacle super pulse b.., p.1

Tabernacle (Super Pulse Book 3), page 1

 

Tabernacle (Super Pulse Book 3)
 

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Tabernacle (Super Pulse Book 3)


  Super Pulse

  3: Tabernacle

  Dave Conifer

  Copyright © 2017 by Dave Conifer

  Cover Art and Design

  by Laura Moyer of thebookcovermachine.com

  Also by Dave Conifer:

  Throwback (2004)

  FireHouse (2007)

  eBully (2008)

  Snodgrass Vacation (2009)

  Wrecker (2011)

  Primary Justice (2011)

  Hard Lines (2012)

  Cold Cases: Man of Steel (2008)

  Cold Cases: Zodiac Rogue (2013)

  Cold Cases: Money Down (2014)

  Super Pulse: The Grid Goes Black (2016)

  Super Pulse: To the Barrens (2017)

  One

  Nick Mercator was up on the rooftop of the new Bath House on a chilly November morning, only about an hour into the preparations for papering and shingling it. It was so early that his help hadn’t arrived yet. That was good, he’d been telling himself. He could get the job set up before his green crew came on site. “Da da da da, Beast of Burden!” he sang into the handle of his hammer, leaning his head back for full effect.

  “Yeah! Stones!” came a male voice from down below on the ground, the owner of which Nick couldn’t see.

  “You know it!” he shouted back, not even caring who was down there cheering him on. It felt great to sing, even though he knew he couldn’t carry a tune and couldn’t remember any lyrics to save his own life. In fact, he felt great in general, despite the troubled world he found himself living in. Life had been tough, but it was satisfying to know he’d had a lot to do with where he and his group had landed. As hard as life was, it could be a lot worse.

  On a personal level, he was pleased to learn that he was up to the challenge of this kind of life. In many ways it had made him a better man. He rarely thought about the bottles of Jack Daniels he’d left behind in the basement of his house in Crestview. Not too often, at least. He liked to think he’d grown too strong for that. It hadn’t been an issue in quite some time. He did, of course, miss being able to flip on the classic rock station anytime he wanted to jam out. In the old days he never ventured to a work site without that capability. Those days were gone. He wondered if he’d ever experience the joy of Zeppelin again. At least he hadn’t wasted any time learning how to use an iPod, like his ex-wife Val had. That stuff wasn’t coming back any time soon.

  He was about to start ad-libbing more Stones lyrics when he heard a commotion coming from the direction of the camp entrance a few hundred yards away. Now what, he thought. It sounded serious. Not that he had any authority around Camp Tabernacle, but if there were problems, he felt obligated to go help out. Until then, it had looked like it would be a productive morning. But now, unless things quieted down quickly, he would have to climb down the ladder to investigate.

  Typical, he thought. Nothing around here ever goes as planned. The very building he was perched on was a last-minute addition to Tabernacle. It was only after members began moving down from their temporary residence at Southampton Middle School, just a few miles north, that The Committee realized that with all the planning and preparation, they’d forgotten to pencil in a facility for bathing. Now, just twelve days later, the remainder of the members had moved in and the new building was finished. Except for the roof. And now that was going to have to wait again, at least for a few minutes.

  Even before he was halfway down the ladder he saw a dozen Sec Forces, in their now-familiar bulky blue uniforms, sprinting pell-mell toward the sound of the ruckus. If the Sec Forces had been called, that meant there was trouble brewing. Especially if they’re running, Nick thought.

  Carlo Moriarty had done an impressive job of building up the Sec Forces since taking command a few weeks earlier, after the last invasion hadn’t been handled as well as it should have been. Carlo and Nick had grown closer in those weeks. Carlo often laughed about recruiting Nick, who was never quite sure if it was a joke or not. But one thing he was sure of was that the newly re-organized forces were better than they had been before. They’d always been well-equipped, thanks to some timely raids on the National Guard armory during the early days after the EMP. Based on some of the weapons and equipment he’d seen, Nick knew they must have done plenty of looting at hunting and gun shops as well. Now, however, they had a more flexible chain of command that allowed the fighters to think for themselves and make decisions at the lowest levels if needed.

  As Nick watched two more of them disappear up the road toward the camp entrance, he was reminded of his only criticism, one that Carlo always shrugged off because he felt powerless to change it. The force was too small. They didn’t have enough soldiers to hold down a huge chunk of land like Camp Tabernacle. With all the desperation and misery out there, the wrong people in enough numbers were eventually going to stumble across the camp and realize what it was. For God’s sake, people are dying out there, Nick had argued. It’s only a matter of time before we have to defend what we have. Potential attackers already had the motivation; when they had numbers to go with that motivation, it wasn’t going to turn out well.

  None of that mattered at the moment, of course, Nick knew as he stepped off the ladder. After making sure his pistol was where he’d left it in the pocket of his jacket, he joined the irregular stream of residents heading toward the disturbance. Thanks to Carlo’s new rules, Nick knew most of them were armed the same way he was.

  When he got close to the gate he was surprised at how orderly the scene was. Outside the swinging wooden barricade, which had been built within the existing Camp Tabernacle arch, were about twenty men. The barricade was largely symbolic. It could stop vehicles, but invaders could easily go around it into the tree line, which hadn’t been fortified yet. It meant something that the strangers on the other side of the gate hadn’t done this. They weren’t there to fight. Not yet.

  They looked determined, belligerent and desperate all at the same time. But who didn’t in these days, Nick asked himself as he approached. Anybody who wasn’t lucky enough to be part of a group like the one at Tabernacle was already staring the beginnings of a cold, hungry winter in the face. The encroachers, dressed in tattered, filthy clothing, some draped with blankets, had a wide array of weapons in their hands. A few had rifles. Several carried crossbows. Most carried rudimentary clubs and spears. If this mob wanted to, they could do some damage. Again, the fact that they hadn’t done any yet meant something.

  Carlo was at the head of his forces inside the barricade. On his shoulder was his favorite weapon, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. If he wasn’t so worried, Nick would have laughed. Even now, Carlo was being Carlo. Another Sec Force, after conferring with Carlo, walked to the barricade with a rifle in his hands. A moment later Carlo handed the launcher off and joined him empty-handed. Nick slid his pistol out of his pocket and pushed through the crowd so he could hear.

  “You have two minutes to lower your weapons and leave,” Carlo said.

  A large man stepped out of the ragged bunch and met them at the barricade, a cross bow held menacingly in his hands. “And you got one minute to open this gate and let us in,” he growled. “We’re comin’ in either way. So what’s it gonna’ be?”

  Carlo folded his arms, and at the same time gave an almost imperceptible nod. The Sec Forces closed in behind him in a line as wide as the barrier. “You know as well as I do that it’s not gonna’ work out that way,” Carlo told the man. “How about we cut to the chase. Why are you here? What do you want?”

  Nick thought he saw the intruder flinch. But why? Probably because he knew Carlo was right about how an attack would turn out. Or maybe something else. “We know you have food,” the man said. “We
ve smelled it cooking for weeks. Deer, right? Gotta’ be, in these parts.”

  “And?” Carlo asked.

  “We have a deal for you. All you have to do is give us a steady supply of food, and we’ll stay outside these gates,” the man said. “And we’ll make sure everybody else out here does the same.” He gestured at his men. “There are a lot more of us than you’re seein’ here. We control these woods.”

  Carlo’s eyebrows rose. Nick, who was worried about being cut down by a volley of arrows at any moment, couldn’t believe it. Carlo almost looked as though he was enjoying this. “So you’re talking about old school protection racket. More like an extortion racket. I pay you money to protect me and in return you don’t burn my shop down. Am I right?”

  “No, it ain’t like that,” the man said. “It’s not us who—“

  “Save it,” Carlo said. “I know what you’re talking about. But you don’t have the men to pull it off, at least right now, my brother.” He gestured at his own men. “We have you outnumbered, and we have you outgunned. What were you thinking?”

  “So that’s a no, then?” the man asked.

  “Yes sir,” Carlo replied. “That’s a no. And like I said at the start, you have one-hundred and twenty seconds to scram. Starting now.”

  The man turned his head slightly and nodded. Somebody in the back shrieked at the top of his lungs. Nick had never heard a single human being make a sound so loud, but there was no time to dwell on it. It was a signal. He was sure of it. That was worrisome, because it meant there was somebody out there to receive it. Even before the shriek had died away, chaos broke out.

  First came the woosh of arrows as they flew through the barrier. Three Sec Forces screamed and dropped to the dirt, each with an arrow protruding from their chests. The invaders split neatly into two groups, each melting into the woods alongside the camp gate. The Sec Forces, meanwhile, looked at each other like the inexperienced soldiers that they were, before gathering their wits and charging into the woods in pursuit. A few remained, clustered around the fallen men. Moments later Nick heard shots fired in the distance. He knew shooting would be challenging in the woods. The invaders had known it, too. They were too smart to stand and fight in the open, especially after catching a glimpse of Carlo’s favorite weapon.

  Apparently nobody had anticipated any casualties. One man sprinted back toward camp, presumably to bring back medical help. It didn’t look to Nick like it was going to matter. All three of the wounded soldiers were as still as stone where they lay. Blood oozed around the shafts of the arrows that had sliced into their bodies. The archers who fired those arrows knew exactly where to aim. That didn’t bode well for the Sec Forces who’d just charged into the forest.

  “Nick, we’re going to need some help!” Carlo barked. “Same as last time. Go tell somebody we need every civilian to arm up. After you all have your rifles, send somebody to me for orders. Go!”

  Two

  As soon as she heard the engines, Elise Knight knew exactly who had come to town and what was going to happen. Only this time it was going to be worse. Because last time, the local men were around to stand up for the town. Even though they’d been outgunned at the time, fighting guns with crossbows, for the most part, they’d fought hard enough to keep at least some of the food they’d hoarded. But this time there weren’t any men older than fifteen or younger than sixty. And she doubted that it was mere coincidence that these marauders showed up the day after the rest of the men left on a desperate mission to replace some of the food that had been stolen from them. They knew. Somehow, they were watching and they knew.

  It bothered her that she felt so helpless without the men around. Hadn’t the world evolved past the point where women had to rely on men? It had. The only problem, however, was that it had since devolved. Life now had more in common with a hundred years ago than with a hundred days ago. It was more primitive than that, really. At least they knew more about living off the land a hundred years ago. They knew how to live without electricity, even if it was only because they didn’t know what they were missing.

  Nowadays they were nearly helpless. Unless the power came back on, it would be a long time before life was as good as it had been a century earlier. Until then, the plain state of the world as it currently existed was that might made right. And one thing that had never changed was that when it came to might, males were on top.

  She still didn’t understand how none of the good people had cars, but the bad people all seemed to. It had been explained to her several times how the EMP ruined some cars and not others, but somehow it never sank in with her. She’d spent a lot of time rationalizing about how there probably were good people with working vehicles somewhere out there. They’d never use them to terrorize and loot, so she probably wouldn’t ever see them. For the same reason, the bad people who had cars were easy to spot. They made it quite easy.

  Tucked inside one of the houses on the single block in which everybody now lived, she watched the trucks race up the street toward the center of town. They’d be back in a few minutes, she knew. There wasn’t much left downtown. Everything worth having was right there where she was. It had to be. That was their only hope for holding on to it. At least it was until these men with the trucks came back for the rest.

  The other moms and a few of the kids living in the house now had their faces pressed against the same window Elise did. That snapped Elise out of a momentary bout of hopelessness. By sitting and waiting, and even showing themselves at the window, they were playing right into their enemy’s hands. “We have to get out of here!” she shouted suddenly. “Before they come back!”

  She ran around the house, banging on doors and collecting people. She couldn’t believe it when she saw the residents assembling out back. There were thirty people living in a single house! Jim Crowley, the guy who’d run the local UPS shop until he’d retired a few years ago, was already directing frightened occupants one by one through the sliding glass door into the back yard. He knew what was coming better than anybody.

  Jim didn’t look the part, mostly because of his age, but he was a fighter. He’d paid a price for that. When the lacerations on his arms and face healed, if they ever did, he’d have a set of gruesome scars by which he would always remember the last time they were here. He seemed even less surprised than Elise did that they’d returned so soon after their last visit.

  After guiding them through the yard and into the woods, Jim had come back into the house where Elise was. “I’m worried about the girls across the street,” he said. “I’m going over to roust them out and bring them over here.”

  Elise nodded in agreement. She was as worried as he was. He was talking about the house they all called “The Slumber Party.” Nearly all the teenage girls that were still around lived there. They’d pleaded with their elders for the chance to move in together, and the adults had finally given in. If it made the nightmare of the EMP easier for them to cope with, their parents had told themselves, what harm could it do?

  Jim Crowley had been one of the few who’d stood up and told them exactly what harm it could do. He argued that the young women should be mixed in with everybody else. But nobody cared what an old man thought about it. And now his fears were coming true. The most vulnerable people left in town, defenseless young women that the barbarians in their trucks would covet, were sleeping through an invasion. He had to get over there. If he didn’t, nobody would.

  Elise saw Jim walk out the front door when everybody else was heading in the other direction. The house had been successfully evacuated; their work was done there. She could either hide in the woods where they’d sent the residents, or follow Jim. She was going to do the latter. Her daughter was in that house. There was nothing she could do for her husband, who was out with the other men looking for food, but she still had Tammy to look out for.

  “Jim!” she called out as she ran to catch up. “Wait up!”

  Jim turned and saw her, but never broke stride and didn’t r
eply until she was by his side. “We have to get the girls out,” he said, forgetting that he’d already spoken of his concerns. “If I remember correctly, teenage girls will sleep through anything.”

  “I wonder if they’d be safer if we just let them do exactly that,” Elise said, something that had just occurred to her. “They could just sleep through the whole thing. If there even is a whole thing. These guys might just be here for the food, right?”

  “Nothing ever works out so neat like that, and you know it,” Jim said.

  “Yeah, I know,” Elise conceded. They were almost to the house now. “They’ll go downtown, try to loot our food, and see that we moved everything out. Then they’ll ransack the rest of the town. Starting here. They’re hungry, just like we are.”

  “And well-armed,” Jim added. “They rolled right up this street on the way in. I’m sure something tipped them off. They’ll know this is where we are.”

  “Were they watching us all along?” Elise asked as they moved up the front steps and onto the porch of The Slumber Party. “It’s the perfect time to attack. The ones who fought them so hard last time aren’t here.” She looked up and down the street from the top step. A few volunteers were banging on doors, just like they themselves were about to do. Good, she thought. If the invaders come this way, at least we’ll survive, even if it’s just with the shirts on our backs.

  “More likely they saw our folks pass by on their way out, and guessed where they’d come from,” Jim answered. “They might have even recognized some of them from the last time. We’re the fellows with the crossbows.”

  Elise pounded on the front door. “Hey! Get up!” More pounding. She had no way to know if they heard her or not.

  “I can break this glass and reach in,” Jim said, pointing to a shoulder high window in the sidelight. Elise had her doubts; it looked like a sturdy little pane. But when the door suddenly opened and a sleepy teenager clad in sweats stood before them, the point was moot.

 
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