The following passage is the first three thousand words of Part 3-Dawning Nightmare when Mark Bishop finally understands the world as he knows it has permanently changed for the worse.
Two or three days stretched into ten, then into twenty. Ned appeared on the third day and delivered Mark’s fifty-five hundred dollars as promised and disappeared and they never saw him again. One morning, Mark mentioned Ned to Harold.
“Ned’s a jack of all trades. He has contacts in a lot of places; groups like ours. He keeps his head down and moves like a ghost among them. All the leaders know him and trust him, but never knowing where he is or when he’ll show up makes it safer.”
“How do they contact him?” asked Mark.
“Mostly they don’t. Or, they use a dead drop, although it might be a month before he checks a dead-drop for messages. You were just lucky that he was here when you arrived. We may not see him again for months.”
Harold just glanced at him and said nothing for a moment. “Cell phones are a problem,” he said turning and walking away.
Ok, so cell phones are a problem, but then, it’s not like I have one anymore, thought Mark, I wonder why they’re a problem?
The days dragged on. The Bishop family became integrated into the group’s work routine; Mark working as a carpenter’s helper building shelters and storage; Carla helped prepare food and Brian whose arm was slowly healing, cleaned and oiled weapons and stored them, meticulously inventorying every round of ammunition. He found to his surprise that he liked guns; he was fascinated by their simple precision. Slowly acute memories of the horrible reality of a world ruled by IFS faded into routine.
Mark had just sat down on a log with his breakfast one morning when Harold sat across from him.
“After breakfast, walk down to the edge of the river bluff with me,” he said, “There are caves there. I’ll show you where they are. We need to expand some of them for our stores and an emergency hiding place. Soon, they will be looking for us, and we need to be ready; to hide, and perhaps, to fight.”
“Fight? It looks to me like they could starve you out of a cave.”
“Yes, we will have to fight outside. The caves will make it hard to find us, but if they do, we’ll have to take the fight to them; and then it will be much harder.”
Mark nodded silently and ate quietly. He wondered what had happened to moving them to another community elsewhere in the country. Harold hadn’t mentioned it again.
Harold drank the last of the coffee in his cup. “Are you ready?” he asked Mark.
Mark nodded and they stood and walked together toward the river. Neither man saying anything on the way. After about fifteen minutes, Mark stood on the bluff overlooking the river about forty feet below him. He could see the swift current curling around rocks along the shoreline, occasional drift wood bumping into them as roots and broken tree limbs made their way downstream. In places, a thick line of roots, tree limbs and sometime whole trees made thick piles caught in rocks, testimony to the brute force of moving water at flood stage. Now, the river flowed over, under and around the obstructions until time and the elements broke them into small pieces to be carried away in the current. “Come on,” said Harold pointing to a dim path to the left. “This takes us down to the river.”
The path proved to be little more than a tenuous stairway of tree roots between stretches of slippery clay kept wet by the seepage from the hill. As they made their way down, the roots gradually became moss covered because of the moisture and the clay turned to thick mud. Harold grinned at Mark. “We do need a better path!” he chuckled.
“Well, attackers couldn’t come at us quickly,” replied Mark.
“They’d just rappel down slope in mass and overwhelm us. You were never in the military were you?”
“Trust me, they have equipment and resources we don’t. Our best bet is not being found!”
“So, how do we get here?”
“A mile upriver toward the bridge the bluff is lower. We carry stuff a mile upstream, and then carry it back downstream along the edge of the river. We’ll have to depend on the water level fluctuations to wipe out our tracks.”
Mark didn’t reply. They’d reached the bottom of the bluff and were walking along the riverbank between the rack line and the toe of the bluff. Soon, they reached a rock outcrop with a large mound of trapped trees, stumps and logs caught behind a rock formation. In the face of the outcrop, behind the mound of trapped drift wood was a part of the cliff face where the rock appeared eroded and undercut. The overhang blocked light, and until Mark’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, he did not see the narrow opening that announced itself as an even darker void. He shivered. He was claustrophobic and hated the idea of being in a cave at all, particularly a cave barely large enough for him to walk through.
“This is it,” said Harold. “Nobody has explored it yet, but we’ve been back a couple of hundred feet inside. It opens up into a large room about thirty feet inside, so it’s not as bad as it looks. It goes on beyond the room. Rumor has it these hills are laced with old gold mines, but I don’t much about them. Anyway, your job is to recruit a team to clear it for use as a community shelter and storeroom, and then explore it. The goal is to find other rooms and exits for escape routes if we need them.
“I see,” said Mark skeptically. “Do you really think someone is going to come after us?”
A low rhythmic rumble suddenly could be heard above the sounds of the river. Coming from upstream it slowly followed the stream as it wound its way downstream. “Quick! Into the cave,” yelled Harold, physically shoving Mark back into the rock orifice and following him inside. The rumble became a steady drumming sound…helicopters! His back against the cave wall, Mark could see four Blackhawk helicopters through the opening leisurely following the river just above the tree-tops. Slowly, they passed downstream and their sound faded with them as they moved out of view.
“Yes, I think they’re going to be looking for us; and here’s why. IFS is about control. They won’t tolerate defiance without at least trying to wipe it out. They’re still getting organized, but soon, they’ll be coming in force to eliminate the non-compliers.”
“They can’t just leave us alone? Besides, those were military; they can’t use military force inside the United States. It’s illegal.” Mark protested.
“Who’s going to tell IFS what’s legal and what’s not legal?” said Harold. “They make the rules as they go. Now they control the military as well as law enforcement. If you want to tell them it’s illegal be my guest; just make sure I’m not around to watch them kill you!”
Mark shook his head. What kind of a crazy world has this become? He thought.
“Seriously,” said Harold, “think about it from the IFS perspective. All of us defied them, rubbed their noses in it and ran. Others will do the same if they let us get away. They have to kill us; or at least make us hope for death. They’ve no choice if they want domination and they’ve never been hesitant to kill before.
“Come on, Harold! You don’t believe that. The government isn’t going to let them kill anyone and get away with it!
“How long have you been with us, Mark, five weeks? Things can change a lot in five weeks. But for your information about a week after you ran, about a thousand people gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to protest IFS control. They brought knives and removed each other’s RFID chips on the street. The government ringed the protest with mortar shells; white phosphorus and mustard gas. More than three hundred died and nearly seven hundred were fatally wounded with burns and severely damaged lungs. It’s hard to imagine phosphorus burns and the agony of mustard gas. I saw the damage mustard could do among the surviving Kurds in Iraq when I was a soldier. That was your government at work under the influence of IFS.”
“Then, about a week after that, a group like us but more than five thousand of them had gathered in a massive refugee camp in an isolated mountain valley in southwestern Colorado near the Vallecito Reservoir. Troops parachuted in and cut the roads in and out. Then, your government dropped a thermobaric weapon on the camp incinerating them instantly and starting a forest fire that’s still burning.
“No! Hell no! You’re lying to me!” erupted Mark.
“I wish I were lying. I’d much rather be lying to you than telling you this. Two days ago, five or six hundred people stormed and occupied the IFS building in Austin, Texas, protesting IFS control. IFS set off charges in the building supports collapsing the building on the protestors and their employees that were caught inside. There were no survivors. These are the things that tell me we have no time to lose. We have to be ready when they come; and they will come; with overwhelming force.
“How do you know this stuff,” asked Mark, “I haven’t heard any news in five weeks.”
“Hearing it wouldn’t do you any good,” answered Harold. “The news outlets are controlled now. You wouldn’t have been allowed to hear a word about the massacres. Each of our groups are connected by amateur radio operators operating on a variety of bands to make it harder to monitor. Mike Pearson and Hal Burton stand around the clock radio watches so I get news from eye-witness accounts almost immediately.
Numb, Mark sat down on a log and tried to clear his head. Harold sat beside him. “You see, Mark, we don’t have much time. They’re going to be looking for us.”
“Just curious, Harold, but once you said we’d have to be moving to another group somewhere else in the country, Wisconsin, I think you said; what happened to that plan?”
“It was one of those things that changed in the last five weeks,” Harold answered. “There’s no ticketed transportation anymore without the IFS chip; no air transportation, no buses, no passenger trains, no taxis, no boats; nothing but foot traffic and private automobiles. Private automobiles need fuel and fuel purchases are impossible without a chip scan. All at once, every interstate ramp has a roadblock to scan chips and back roads have roving police stopping cars and scanning chips. On foot, and maybe if you’re lucky, freight trains, are the only way to travel. It got too risky to send you anywhere else.
That night at dinner, Mark sat with Carla and Brian eating glumly. He told them what Harold had said and about the four military helicopters. For each of them, the idea that they might be hunted by the military brought the nasty reality of an IFS dominated world sharply back into focus.
Carla sat looking long and hard at Mark. “Mark, what you said…what Harold said…it isn’t possible. The government doesn’t kill people!”
“Yes…yes, it does. Our government has a long history of killing people it considers threats to its authority.”
“I don’t know. Don’t you read?”
“Sorry. I don’t read conspiracy books incessantly like you do! Maybe you could enlighten me?
“The CIA and the military have killed people they considered threats ever since World War II.”
“Foreign nationals, yeah maybe, but when have they killed American citizens?” demanded Carla.
“I don’t know. Maybe just in the last five weeks or five years or fifty years; I don’t know!” said Mark. She looked down at the ground. Mark continued, “But you know they have; I know they have. We don’t know their faces, or their names, or where they lived, but we both know they have.”
She began to cry softly “What are we going to do Mark?” she asked. “None of us are soldiers. None of us know how to fight. We don’t have the arms to fight even if we knew how!”
“Mom, we have some guns. We’d have a fighting chance,” said Brian.
“No, Brian,” answered Mark pensively, “trained soldiers would overrun us in a heartbeat. Besides, according to Harold, they’re using over-whelming force impossible for normal people to survive. Your Mom’s right. We have no chance except to escape detection and I don’t know how we can do that.” Maybe the cave, he thought, but I wouldn’t bet on it!
After dinner, Mark began to work his way around to small groups of men asking if they would help him with the cave project. Eventually, six agreed to meet him at breakfast to help. Then, he found Harold who opened the storeroom and gave him eight flashlights, two oil lanterns, a can of lamp oil, extra flashlight batteries and shovels. Finally, he tumbled onto his pallet and fell immediately to sleep. Somewhere in his subconscious, he heard Brian say “I’m going with you, Dad. I’ll help,” but Mark was too far gone to respond.
The next morning, Carla served Brian, Mark and his six men dry pancakes and coffee. There was no syrup, honey or even butter for the pancakes. But the men were hungry and coffee washed the dry cake down just fine; a lot better than no breakfast at all.
“What is it we’re doing?” asked Jason Ponder, one of the volunteers.
“Preparing a cave to be a hideout and storeroom,” answered Mark.
“I didn’t know there any caves around here,” said Ponder, “where are they?”
“You’ll see,” said Mark sticking a flashlight in his pocket, picking up a lantern, a lamp oil can and a shovel. Walking away he said, “If you guys will get the rest of the equipment, I’ll show you.”
The inside of the cave was exactly what Harold had said. After about twenty feet of narrow passage, a huge room loomed in the darkness. Anxiously, the men played flashlights around the space looking for ceiling and walls. Perhaps one hundred by one hundred feet in size, the room was approximately circular with a domed ceiling they estimated to be thirty or more feet high in the center…perhaps a historic gas bubble in a massive igneous rock inclusion thought Mark, but he wasn’t a geologist. He could only guess about its origins; but he, and the others, could plainly see the designs on the wall reflected in the artificial light.
“Wow,” exclaimed Ponder, “looks like some prehistoric people hid in here first. I wonder if they were running from IFS, too?” His comment was ignored by the others.
“Oh really,” he continued, “we’re going to deface this by turning it into a storeroom?”
“And a hideout,” said Mark.
“Hideout from what?” demanded Ponder, “IFS? IFS doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about us! We’re small potatoes. What makes you think they’d waste time and resources on us?
“It’s our assignment,” said Mark, “we’re going to do it. If you don’t want to help, go back to camp!”
“Hey,” called one of the other men, “there’s a partial blockage back here! I can see an opening beyond it.”
Mark examined the debris pile. “There’s nothing too big to handle by hand. Let’s carry it all the way outside, and then, some of you can finish in here while a couple of us explore the new cavern.” In two hours, they’d opened the adjoining passage. Ponder, who had shown himself to be slow and adverse to work, joined Mark and Brian in the exploration.
“Use the lantern. Save the flashlights,” Mark directed Brian and Ponder as he turned back for one last longing look at the daylight filtering into the room through the narrow opening. There wasn’t much light, but there was enough to convince Mark that his claustrophobia was going to be a serious problem; and claustrophobia was much worse in the dark. Biting his lip, he turned toward the forbidding passageway. “Ready?” he asked.
“Ready,” echoed Brian and Ponder.
“Let’s do it,” said Mark stepping cautiously into the blackness.
Although at first he almost hyperventilated, Mark managed to control his breathing and keep his pace slow and even. Gradually, he began to relax and carefully watch what was revealed in the lantern light. The passage they walked through had a solid rock floor, vertical walls and a ceiling periodically reinforced by very old timbers; old, but still solid. A mine! thought Mark. What did he know about mines? There would be an entrance. They must have entered through a side tunnel; maybe even a drainage shaft to the river.
Fishing in his pocket, Mark brought out the lighter he’d used to light the lantern. Flicking the button, he studied the flame in the dim light. It fluttered, danced and leaned in the direction they were headed. A draught! There was air flowing through the mine. Where there was a breeze there were openings!
“What is it, Dad?” asked Brian.
Mark replied, “There’s an opening somewhere ahead. Maybe we’ll be able to find an exit.”
“That’s great! Let’s go find it,” said Brian. Ponder said nothing.
Within a few steps they began to encounter side passages. Old rusting iron ore car tracks now dominated the tunnel floor. Each time they passed a side tunnel they placed a small pile of rocks in the tunnel they were following on each side of the side tunnel. Mark checked their progress periodically with the lighter flame. In a couple of hundred feet they came to an abrupt halt.
“Watch out!” shouted Mark, his voice reverberating in the side tunnels. He instinctively grabbed Brian’s arm.
“Ouch!” Brian exclaimed. “That arm still hurts!”
They faced a vertical shaft. Mark gestured toward it. “Better the arm than the fall!”