State of Rebellion (Collapse Series) (5 page)

“That used to be the campers’ dining hall,” Dad says, catching up with me. “To the right is where everybody is staying. This way, I’ll show you.”

While Dad’s group of
Rangers
disperse amongst the camp, following orders, the
Fighters
follow Dad down the road that winds away from the chow hall. Even in the safe confines of a
campground our platoons stay in position, moving with purpose. Ready for anything.

Side streets dive off through the forest, going uphill, downhill and every other direction known to man. Cabins are everywhere. Most of them look like they’re being lived in.

Further down the street, an archway stretches between two lodge pole pines.

PINE TREE HIGH SCHOOL CAMP

“This is where you’ll be staying,” Dad says, turning to Chris. We walk under the arch. A grassy meadow extends into the open for a good five hundred feet. An empty swimming pool sits to the left, surrounded by a cyclone fence.

As we cross the meadow, we enter a dark forested area. Quaint brown cabins dot the perimeter, sitting snugly within the trees. Each cabin has a name, too.

Deer Foot.

Sugar Pine.

Fern.

Tiger Lily.

“These are camper cabins,” I realize.

“Yes,” Dad nods. “And they make perfect barracks for our men.”

I turn to check on our group. Mr. and Mrs. Young are bringing up the rear. Little Isabel has her fingers laced through her adoptive mother’s, and Jeff is standing to the side, nonplussed.

“What do you think?” I whisper to Sophia.

“I think it’s the safest place we’ve been in a long time,” she replies.

No kidding.

“The west side of camp,” Dad explains, “is where the men stay. Ladies, you’ll be across the
meadow in the east side. Each side has a shower and toilet facilities.”

“Oh, whoa.” I blink. “Are you saying there’s running water? Indoor plumbing?”

“Yes.” Dad smiles. “We’ve got our own supply up here. You’ll be briefed on the rules for using water. Dinner is at eighteen-hundred hours every night in the chow hall. Breakfast is at oh-seven-hundred. Everybody pulls their weight around here, so you’ll all be rotating sentry duty and helping with other tasks.”

Sounds fair.

“As for the militia leaders,” Dad continues, turning to Chris. And me. “You’ll need to come with me when you’re ready.”

“Find a bunk and get settled,” Chris commands his men. “Stay alert. I’ll be back.” He nods at Alexander Ramos as he takes his men
towards the barracks. An unspoken command to keep a watchful eye out while he’s gone.

The women gather and head across the meadow. Chris and I follow Dad back up the road, towards the entrance of camp.

“How big is this place?” I ask.

“We’ve got a couple hundred acres,” Dad replies. “The roads twist around quite a bit. There are a lot of abandoned leaseholder cabins that we’ve been using to house families with children. We’ve got our own well, our own generators, and every vehicle that was here when the EMP hit has been made operational again. We’ve got such a diverse bunch of people here, finding men with the skills to do that wasn’t hard.”

“Excellent,” Chris comments. “Where to now?”

“To meet the other militia leaders.”

“Then why am I coming?” I remark. “I’m not in charge of anything.”

Neither of them answers.

We reach the entrance to camp, and I notice for the first time that there are people coming in and out of the general store. Somebody’s carrying a cloth sack. They heave it onto a gardening wagon and start pulling.

“Do you actually sell stuff here?” I ask.

“We
barter
for the most part,” Dad corrects. “People here trade for supplies and services.”

I shake my head, overwhelmed. It’s been so long since I’ve seen any community inhabited
– since I’ve seen a
community
– that I’ve almost forgotten what it was like.

“Here we are,” Dad says.

He pulls off his hat and wipes his forehead with his bandana. We’re standing in front of the Headquarters building.

“Okay, listen,” he goes on, lowering his voice. “All you have to remember is to be respectful when we go in here, and everything will be fine.”

He gives me a pointed look.

Sheesh. No faith in me whatsoever.

We climb the steps. Dad approaches the front door. Neither of us says anything. We just wait. Dad knocks a couple of times.

“Here we go,” Chris mutters.

The door opens. Dad walks inside and we follow. The interior of the cabin is cool and open.
The furniture has been removed, and all that remains is a huge table in the middle of the room. The walls are covered with maps and charts. Large windows cast natural light inside, and around the table are a few people dressed in combat fatigues.

“Frank.” A tall, slender woman with snow white hair stares at us. “You’re back.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dad replies. “We had a successful mission.”

“Did you succeed in destroying the supply depot in Sanger?”

“Not entirely.”

“Perhaps we should redefine ‘successful mission,’ then. Honestly, Frank.” She stands up. She’s wearing black slacks and a green military jacket. “Who are these people?”

I shift, staring at the floor. The other men in the room have their eyes trained on Chris and I, and it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world. Conversely, I’ve been through worse.

A lot worse.

So I look up and meet their gazes. The lady with the white hair is the only woman in the room besides me.

“This is my daughter,” Dad says, putting an arm around my shoulders.

“Dear God,” the woman replies, touching her lips. “You found her.”

“And this is Chris Young,” he continues. “Alpha One, Commander of the Freedom Fighters.”

“Alpha One,” the woman smiles, nodding. “Yes, we’ve communicated with you through the Underground. Good to know we have friends in
the foothills.” She extends her hand to Chris. “I’m Angela Wright, Commander of the militia
Legion
. We’ve been here for six months.”

Chris shakes her hand.

“And you’re Cassidy,” she says. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“My
what
?”

“You’re said to be quite the marksman with a rifle.”

I flush.

“Um, I don’t know.” I look at Chris. He winks. “Who told you that?”

“The Underground isn’t just a source of information,” she smiles. “It’s also an excellent source of gossip.” She starts laughing. “Have a seat, please. And welcome to Camp Freedom, by the way. Let me introduce you to these men here…”

There are three. Commander Jones, Commander Thomas and Commander Buckley. That gives us a grand total of six militia leaders.

“Well, boys,” Angela says. “What happened down there?”

Dad proceeds to explain the situation. How the
Freedom Fighters
were betrayed and ambushed, how the
Rangers
backed us up and helped us escape, and how we ended up here.

“And what about the traitor?” Commander Buckley asks. He’s a tall man in his sixties with dark skin and stormy eyes. “Was he killed?”

“Harry?” I reply. “I don’t know. I didn’t notice, actually.”

“And why not?”

“Because I was shot.”

“Damn, you should have killed him,” Buckley states. “He’ll tell Omega everything he knows about you. Your identities, your fighting techniques. Everything.”

“It’s too late to worry about that now,” Angela shrugs. “What’s done is done. Harry Lydell doesn’t know where Camp Freedom is located, and that’s all that matters. Chris Young and Cassidy Hart are safe here.”

Yeah, maybe.

“What about Vika Kamaneva?” Commander Jones asks, a short man with a bulbous nose and enormous shoulders. “Is she dead?”

“She is,” I confirm. “One of the
Rangers
shot her.”

“Omega is sweeping the foothills heavily for our militias at the moment. I’ve assigned
small harassing units to lead them away,” Chris adds. “We were lucky to get out of there alive.”

“But you did,” Angela says. “And that’s all that matters. We’re glad to have you two on board. More manpower is always welcome. Camp Freedom has been growing substantially, and thanks to the ingenuity of the layout of the camp, we’ve eluded Omega’s patrols so far. Our location is well hidden and fortified.”

“Where are you getting your food?” I ask.

“There are stores of emergency supplies here in camp,” Angela replies. “And there’s wild game in the area to provide food, as well as our own domestic animals. Cattle, sheep, chickens and the like. We have several of our own water sources. I’m sure Frank has told you about the generators?”

“Yes. So you have electricity, too?”

“Only when needed. Fuel is a limited commodity at the present. We don’t use artificial light at night. That could be lethal. We don’t want anything to draw Omega’s attention to this area.” She pauses, looking at us thoughtfully. “If you need anything, let me know. I live here, in the loft. These men are scattered throughout the camp in different cabins. Frank can show you where they reside if need be. You’ll enjoy it here.”

“Thank you.”

She nods.

“About how many men did you bring with you, Young?” she asks Chris.

“Just under a hundred.”

“What are their capabilities?”

I hide a grin as Chris replies, “They can

fight. That’s all that matters.”

Angela doesn’t look amused – but she doesn’t look angry, either. So I take that as a fairly positive sign.

“We’re done here, gentlemen,” she announces. “Young? I look forward to working with you.”

“Likewise.”

I heave a sigh. So formal. Even in the middle of a fortress in the woods.

Chris shakes hands with all of the commanders as Frank and Angela stand to the side, speaking in quiet voices.

“Nice to meet you, Hart,” Commander Buckley says, shaking my hand. “Keep up the good work.”

“Thank you.”

After the commanders leave, Angela approaches me.

“Are you comfortable lodging in the barracks?” she asks.

“Yes, of course,” I reply.

Anything is better than sleeping in the dirt.

“I suggest you go check in with the medical staff, then,” she says, “and make sure your wound is healing properly.”

I glance down self-consciously at the bloody mess that is my shirt.

“Not a bad idea,” I admit. “Where is the medical building?”

“I’ll take you there,” Angela replies, turning to Dad. “I’ll see you at dinner, Frank?”

Dad nods.

“Coming, Chris?” I ask.

“No, you go ahead. I’ll meet you at the chow hall at six.”

Judging by the expressions on Dad and Chris’s faces, they’re itching to get rid of me. They must be waiting to discuss something in private. I wonder what?

“This way,” Angela announces, strapping a belt with a holstered gun around her waist. “It’s not far.”

I follow her outside, suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue. The meeting with the militia commanders really tired me out. Add to that four days of hiking for our lives through the wilderness and I’m ready to take a weeklong nap.

We cut across the main entrance to the camp, bypassing the old gift shop and general store. A tan colored building surrounded by a white fence sits here. A large red cross is painted across the door.

“Here we are,” Angela announces.

We approach the front door, which is propped open with a rock. Inside, everything is white and sterile. Pictures of flowers and tropical islands dot the walls. I place my hand on the front counter to keep my balance.

I haven’t been exposed to anything so startling clean in almost a year.

It’s enough to make you dizzy.

“Cassidy, I thought you might be stopping by.” Desmond – the field medic - steps out of the back room, looking as disheveled as ever. But at least he’s cheerful. “Let’s get you in here and check you out in a real medical setting.”

I swallow and enter a room with an examination table. White fluorescent lights blind me as I sit down, and I find myself staring at the ceiling like a moth drawn to a flame.

“You’re using electricity,” I state numbly.

“Yes, like I said before, we have our own generators,” Angela says, taking a seat in a chair in the corner. “We also have a sizable industrial battery storage and hydroelectric generators. It gives us light, among other things. And light is very convenient for our doctors. They don’t want to be stitching up wounds in the dark, after all.”

I don’t answer. I’m overwhelmed by the sounds of technology.

A clock ticks on the wall.

The light bulbs on the ceiling are buzzing softly.

An intercom unit on the wall squawks as a medical officer calls to Desmond.

“Take a deep breath and soak it in slowly,” Desmond advises, grinning wryly. “I understand, believe me.” He has me lie down on
the table and close my eyes, starting his exam. “When I first came here, I’d been living like a wild savage for months in the mountains. I forgot what artificial light and ticking clocks sounded like, you know?”

I
do
know.

After a lengthy exam and another painful scrubbing procedure to keep the wound clean, Desmond announces, “I’m done. You’ll be fine.” He claps me on the back. I notice for the first time that he’s got beads and feathers threaded through his crazy long hair. “Like I said, you’re lucky.”

“Maybe,” I mutter.

I ease myself off the table.

“Do you know where to find the barracks?” Angela asks, watching me closely.

“East side of the meadow.”

“Right. Do you need any help getting over there?”

I shrug. She looks at Desmond. He nods.

“Take the jeep,” she says, standing up. “I’ll see you later, Cassidy.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Desmond rifles through a drawer, taking out a keychain.

“Let’s go, kiddo,” he says, walking me through the medical building. There are a few other militiamen waiting in a large room crammed with cheap metal chairs.

A waiting room? Some things never change.

Around the back of the building, an old jeep with a red cross painted on the door is parked near the rear exit. Desmond climbs in. I
pull myself onto the passenger seat as he starts the engine.

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