Gravel crunched under the tires of the big diesel pickup. Tanner braked the truck to a stop and leaned forward, his arms crossed over the top of the steering wheel. Behind him, two more pickups rolled to a stop. The wear indicators on the brakes of the middle trucked squealed slightly signaling that it was time to replace the pads.
Tanner looked up at the sky and noticed a Red Tailed Hawk circling overhead. The sun glinted on the windshield causing the big man to squint even though he was wearing polarized sunglasses.
“Sun sure is bright up here,” Tanner remarked to the three other men in the truck.
“Not quite Big Sky country, but it can still make a man feel small,” one of the men in the back seat responded as he looked out the window at the seemingly endless rolling hills.
Tanner and his men had made the long journey from northeastern Nebraska to north central South Dakota in what might be considered record time – given current travel conditions. There had been a couple close encounters in the vicinity of Yankton, but nothing serious. Once the caravan had gotten an hour north of the South Dakota border town, they hadn’t seen another vehicle or person.
The landscape was deserted but not barren. The grass was green. Occasionally, they saw evidence that farm ground had been worked. Every now and then, they spotted a wisp of smoke off on the horizon or a few head of cattle grazing on a hillside. From all appearances, life in rural South Dakota went on much like it had before the crash.
Directly ahead of the men was a concrete building surrounded by chain link fence topped with concertina wire. Signs attached to the fence every few feet read, “Danger High Voltage” and “Warning Restricted Area”.
Tanner opened the door of the truck, stepped out onto the sandy ground and stretched his giant frame. Traveling in any sort of vehicle was not one of his favorite things. Invariably, his height and bulk caused him to cramp.
“Well, let’s see if the power is still working,” Tanner said as he walked up to the gate.
The big man carefully tapped the numbers on the electronic combination lock with the tip of his thumb. There was a beeping sound and then the muted clatter of the lock’s tumblers falling into place.
“At least we won’t have to break in,” Tanner chuckled as he swung the gate open for his team members.
At the door to the building, Tanner repeated the procedure. Again, the electronic lock opened and Tanner swung the door wide. A musty odor met the men as they flipped on the fluorescent lights and assembled inside the large main room.
Tanner unlocked yet another door and then called out heartily, “Down the hatch.”
All eleven members of the team descended down the steel ladder into the upper deck of the secondary chamber of the abandoned missile silo.
Gunnery Sergeant Hood had waited patiently for this silo to be decommissioned by the U.S. military and then auctioned off. It was close enough to his farm to be accessible with a long day of driving, yet far enough away that it was unlikely to be struck by any regional disasters. Hood had considered making the silo his primary living site, but decided to remain at his farm due to its proximity to the airport in Omaha. There wasn’t an airport within 200 miles of the missile silo that could handle commercial jet traffic.
All of that was a moot point now, but it had been cause for consideration before commercial air travel became nothing more than a historical footnote.
As the lights came up, Tanner’s men assembled. One bulb flickered and buzzed, but the rest worked exactly as they had several months before when Tanner had last visited the site.
“OK, fellas,” Tanner’s voice echoed inside the round chamber, “you know the list. Let’s get to it.”
All ten of Tanner’s team members dispersed into various areas of the old silo’s two chambers. Hood had stashed weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, food, water and other necessities at the silo in the event that his primary location became uninhabitable. Given the current circumstances, Tanner’s mission was to relocate a portion of the supplies to the southeast Nebraska location to support and defend the FMC.
Four hours into the task, Tanner and his men stopped for a break. They broke open MRE’s and bottled water and took a seat on the ground outside the concrete block building. The sky was no longer bright and blue. The sun was setting behind the gently sloping hills to the west.
Tanner eyed the cache of goods stacked on pallets and then eyeballed the beds of the three pickups.
“Man, I wish we had those two five-ton trucks,” Tanner chewed as he spoke.
“Yeah, Hood isn’t going to be happy when we return with less than half of what was on our list,” another man agreed.
“And minus two HMMWV’s and two five-tons,” another team member chimed in.
The group chuckled nervously. Hood wasn’t known for his temper, but this was going to be a big disappointment.
“I’ll definitely be missing a piece of my rear after I tell him about it,” Tanner swallowed a mouthful of lukewarm beef lasagna. “Let’s get this stuff loaded up and get out of here.”
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