Predecessor to "All the Wrong Places"
For the first time in over ten years I decided to attend an educational conference. Upgrading our VM-Ware was inevitable and the company hand modified the hell out of their product's infrastructure, so I put my foot down and registered for a conference that promised a free transitional toolkit from VMware corporation. I registered--with a deposit to hold my room--for a week at a Holiday Inn that promised to be on the proper bus route, purchased a business class ticket to Atlanta and forgot about it.
To keep middle-age flab and the saddle-ass syndrome at bay I'd joined a gym a few years back. I tried to spend three mornings a week for an hour before work addressing my cardio needs with a running track and a rowing machine. I spent a few hours every Sunday morning doing situps, pushups and a little heavy-bag work. I tried to slow-pace a half marathon with a thirty-five pound pack on my back once a month. The trainers thought that it was a wierd workout, but it obviously worked. I wasn't any Charles Atlas or obvious body builder, but I had a very good core strength as well as more endurance than most.
The big day finally arrived. I had packed my suitcase early so all I had to do was clean up, dress, grab my carry-on and take a bus to the airport. My suitcase was carefully measured to insure that it would fit under my seat, and my laptop was in a cross-shoulder messenger bag. I went through a standardized set of indignities, proved that my laptop would start up and exhibit a login prompt then stood in line to have my testicles fondled. I looked in the agent's eyes and growled throughout the process. My fingers were crooked into claws and my shoulders were hunched. One last insult and I would have torn the smug bastard's eyes out with a ballpoint pen. I carried my shoes in my hand as I made my way down the concourse to the boarding gate. I refused to give the bastards the opportunity of watching me humble myself while fumbling my shoes back on. They didn't even have the grace to provide goddamned chairs or benches. It was then that I thought up a new money maker--sell a little laser pointer with a hot shot. A one watt LED choked down to a tiny little milliwatt laser to get the thing aimed, then touch a pair of contacts to fire off a one shot seven-watt burst. It would kick out one hell of a lot of broadband collimnated energy, mostly at the top end of the visible spectrum and into the U.V ... If enough people shot them off into the eyes of the airport 'security personnel' there would be retinal damage in short order. It was a public service...
I spent the flight to Atlanta thinking about advertising venues and market saturation, then kickstarter capitalization. I might be able to fund it through click-through ads ... I wondered what frequencies might detach a retina and still pass through polarized sunglasses or metallized contacts for a follow-on market.
It was bloodthirsty, I know, but it kept my mind off the flight. Can you tell that I totally despised security theater?
I calmed down by the time we de-planed. The hotel han't lost my registration, I caught a taxi driver that spoke intelligible English and my room wasn't on a floor with a drunken Shriner's convention or a plumber's union bash. It didn't stink from cigarette smoke, either. I did my best to pace my breathing and anticipate the rest of the week with rose-colored glasses.
I did my best to keep a good attitude. After all, this was as much of a vacation as anything else, because there was no way for me to get any panic calls. I'd made a calculated decision to 'accidentally forget' my cell phone in my desk drawer at work. I moved into the conference room with the rest of the herd. We sampled their pastry and fruit buffet before settling down with pens and paper to try and glean what we could out of this thing.
Before the keynote address finished people started dropping like flies. I hurried my way to a bathroom where I staked out a handicap stall. Soon the lights went out. Not long after that the screaming stopped. Then the moans and begging stopped. The silence was worse.
I held out as long as I could, living off of tap water while cleaning myself and my clothes in a sink. I stayed in there for four days, maybe five. It was hard to tell in the dark. My watch had died. Eventually I broke through the shock and terror to leave my sanctuary.
There were no bodies, clothing or even shoes left behind. What caused it? Not being Catholic or belonging to one of its cross-eyed children, I didn't believe in the rapture. However, the three-sided ships flitting about through the afternoon sky convinced me that there was something out there to fear--and to hide from.
That kicked me over into escape and evasion mode. I stayed away from doors and windows. With the lights out the place was gloomy and the shadows raised the hair on the back of my neck--it resembled the scenery from a first-person shooter like Half-Life.
The hotel kitchens provided me first with a flashlight, then with a generous dinner of fresh food and more canned goods than I could conceivably eat. I located the employee locker rooms and filched two messenger bags from people's lockers. I filled a qart-sized plastic bottle with fresh water then looked for portable food. I found pitas, refrigerated parboiled chicken and sausage. Then I located their supply of baggies. Good to go. The hotel store stocked sticky fruit and nut bars. I pocketed several cook's towels and a couple flatware sets from the kitchen, strung a 6" boning knife on a braided string around my neck and wrapped up a sleeping kit out of things I took from housing storage. I stole two quilts and three shower curtain liners to make up a groundcloth, a pad, an insulating cover and an over-tarp. It wouldn't do very well in anything heavier than a light rain unless I could duct-tape the shower liners together and string up a ridge line. The quilts had cotton covers and would easily soak water, but they were the best things I had to hand. I filched some pillow cases to use as storage bags. The only cordage I could find was a big spool of cotton butcher's twine back in the kitchen. Eventually I hit on taking the packs of shoelaces from the hotel store.
I didn't gain much from the security office. All the contraband was locked away in a vault. I did latch onto a bolt cutter and a big flashlight though. Not long after that I found a bicycle that I could break free. Someone paid a lot of bucks for a Cannondale. Too bad they relied on their salesman who sold them a cheap lock. The Kryptonite U-locks that look bullet-proof have a vulnerability. If they're of the original model, they use a hollow ring-shaped key. If you trimmed the tongue off of a Bic stick pen cap and hammered it into the lock face a few times, the plastic takes on the shape needed to duplicate the key. A vicious press-and-twist opens the lock. A little pre-warming with a lighter helps a lot. It didn't take me long, either.
Before I left the hotel I cooked up a good meal while examining the city map in the front of the phone book. I replaced my bagged food with smoked sausage still in the plastic. I set my sights on a Wal-Mart because it was close and opened up a lot of options. My suit was quickly failing and my leather soled dress shoes just weren't cutting it. My laptop and the contents of my carry-on suitcase were worse than useless to me. They'd only load me down. All I took were socks and underwear.
I rode at night. The little ships seemed to only fly during daylight hours. The silence and dark had me spooked. I navigated by moon light. I was really cursing my shoes by the time I made it to the Wal-Mart parking lot, which was only six miles away. The automatic doors weren't automatic any more so I pushed the bike through the cart return door. It was manual so there were no hydraulics to fight me.
I decided to make the place my base of operations for a while, until I made further plans or the smell of the rotting produce, milk and meat drove me out.
I took a cart and went salvaging in the gloom.
I picked up some Dickeys pants and decent boots with no problem. Their sock selection was mostly crap but beggars can't be choosers. A waffle-weave long-sleeved base layer and a sweatshirt provided me with something comfortable to wear and keep the chill off. It was November in Atlanta and by my best guess the heat had been off for a few days. The big building had a great thermal mass, but it was slowly cooling off.
Boy, I sure hit their camping and hunting departments hard. There really wasn't much there that was practical but I took advantage of what I could. Their knife selection was pretty grim, but I found a sheath to fit my boning knife. I grabbed plenty of 4mm woven synthetic cordage that they called paracord. They had some nylon tarps that would do a better job than a shower liner for overhead protection, but I kept one of the shower liners for a ground cloth. They were acceptably light, folded small and were damned tough. I found a working LED camp light that used four D-cells and promised 72 hours on one set of batteries. I'd give that a test before I left as the electricity was still out. Their poncho selection was pretty dismal but I needed something to use as a rain cover. It was winter in Atlanta and the cold rains came frequently.
.... There is more of this story ...