They Came From the Stars

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2016 by Howard Faxon

Science Fiction Story: ...impersonal, judging, murderous. When judged by their own strict codex, they failed as well. Before culling themselves they left what remained of mankind with a gift.

Caution: This Science Fiction Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Post Apocalypse   .

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.

They stocked full-sized, thick exercise mats that I thought were the cat's meow, and the luggage department had some double-strap zippered duffle bags that I could wear like a backpack. An adult-sized synthetic sleeping bag fit inside the bottom quarter, once I cranked down on the stuff sack straps. The tools department supplied me with some heavier cord, blue rolls of disposable cloth shop towels, extra-sticky duct tape called Gorilla tape and a 36" bow saw that I could lash to the pack along with my new sleping pad. I stripped off a few huge contractor's garbage bags from a heavy roll. They were made of exceptionally tough polyethylene. I could cut them open and use Gorilla tape to cover a pretty nice sized shelter that a blowing rain couldn't get through.

There was a little grill-restaurant near the front of the store, up near the bathrooms. I set up my 'camp' there. Everything was electric so I needed to find something to cook on. As a general rule I didn't like to use propane stoves when camping because they packed big and heavy, but that wasn't going to hold me back while doing the ultimate in car-camping. A wrecking bar and a wheelbarrow aided and abetted while I broke into the propane tank exchange rack out in front of the store. They stocked the fittings to allow a little camp stove to mate to a big tank rather than the little 'disposable' one pounders that seem to run out just as things get interesting. I went back for another tank to set up a nice bright, hot camp light as well. Tying the mantle on was a bit fussy in the gloom, but the little thing equalled a seventy watt lightbulb. That meant some serious light and even more heat.

The meat in the display cases was looking pretty gray--well past the point where I'd trust it, but they had big coolers in the back with heavy insulation. I fished out some strip steaks, made a pass through the spices aisle, fetched a fry pan and dinner was on. A spray bottle of 409 and some paper towels later, you'd not know that I'd cooked anything there.

I broke into the security office where I found a mailbox-like structure built into the wall. I'd seen them before in court houses and police stations near the security scanners. They're for the officers to secure their firearms. A flat screwdriver and a tiny little catspaw easily broke into the caches. I found a .38 revolver in a shoulder holster. It did wonders for my confidence even though I'd seen nothing that I had to beware of on the ground. It was easy enough to snap the glass door on the retail ammo case for a box of rounds. I gladly took the time to get the holster's straps to fit me properly.

Before setting up my sleeping area I used a big, deep produce cart to load up the self-serve meat. I wanted it out of the store before it started to really stink. I rolled the thing out the store's delivery door and left it, as the dumpster used an electric crusher. Then I loaded up a cot, a fresh sleeping pad and another sleeping bag from the inventory. If there was an employee locker room I couldn't find it. I had a quick cleanup with pre-wetted wipes and a bath towel. Two more towels in a pillow case made a fine pillow. I swapped in fresh underwear and a soft, warm pair of fuzzy slipper-socks. My feet were still drying out from travelling through the slush on that bike.

I had a hard time getting to sleep. I ended up moving my cot into the alcove for the bathrooms so that I was shielded on three sides.

I was disoriented on waking. Sleep had taken me hard and didn't want to let go. I snatched a roll of paper towels to use as toilet paper before using the bathroom. Their huge rolls of one-ply paper they provided were despicable. The power-assisted flush didn't work so I used a bucket of water to sluice out the toilet after doing my business.

I thought about what to do next while hoovering up a big breakfast of flapjacks with syrup, bacon and eggs. I started marking up a city map. First I marked gun stores. Next came sporting goods stores, hardware stores and finally military surplus outlets. Starting with my current location, I drew out corridors to investigate, making sure that at least one military surplus outlet was within each area as rationally they should provide the best result for the effort. Atlanta was too damned big to go haring off without some sort of plan. My goal was to provide myself with "bomb-proof" equipment that would keep me as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. I decided to visit 'Army Surplus Atlanta' first as it wasn't but a few blocks away.

I was excited to see a sign in their window--"New shipment of Bergen Backpacks--Just In!" Damn, that was just what I was looking for--something with a huge load carrying capacity and well-tested comfort. The real British Army and SAS Bergens carried 100 liters plus twenty more broken into two side pouches called rocket pouches. The place had some after-market knock-offs made of 1000 dernier nylon, but still held to the 'one freaking huge bag' principle with two fat snap-on side pouches and a lot of lashing straps. The main packs were "shorties" that held 60 liters, and came with two double-sized rocket pouches, totalling 100 liters. They had the big military-grade indestructable zippers.

The nasty knock-off Bergens had little nylon zippers and were made of 500 dernier nylon. I called them "two season specials". Enough said?

Man, I hit the jackpot. I found military sleeping bags that would compress down to a bag about the size of a football. They carried military surplus Gore Tex bivvys and honest-to-God paratrooper's boots with side zippers. I found a cook kit that I liked and a collapsible steel box stove. The place carried the Gerber line of camp axes with hollow black fiberglass wrap-around handles. They're not perfect, but they're light, sharp as hell and damned near indestructable. The smallest ones make nice 'palm axes'. I made sure to grab a fist-full of army green wool socks and four O.D. BDU blouses. I didn't anticipate coming this way again, so I stocked up. They carried good quality military surplus camo ponchos and liners. If anything came in steel I chose that over aluminum, such as the canteen, canteen cup and mess kit.

At first I looked for ponchos because that's what works when riding a bicycle. Still, when you've stopped and are working around camp a poncho makes for a horrible choice. It's constantly in the way, even with a belt around your waist. I found a dark green British wool duffle coat with toggle closures, marked 'bus driver's coat' and a Danish set of military digital camo Goretex blouse and pants. I was good to go for rainy cold weather, either on the bike or in camp. All I needed was a hat and gloves. The place was well-stocked with all the necessities.

I had to use good judgement as everything had to fit inside the pack and balance evenly or I'd not be able to use the bicycle, which was a great force multiplier when make distance. I actually left some space inside the main pack for further salvage. From then on that Bergen became my best friend and constant companion. I never went without it. Now, where to go? I decided to hit the library for ideas. Watching the city decay around me as I lived on the wreckage was a bit too apocalyptic for me.

I hadn't seen a living soul in over a week. That didn't bode well for our population numbers.

I figured that I'd be living as a scavenger or a hunter for as long as I lived. I was running under the radar. Were the guys flying around looking for more people to kill? I sure as hell wasn't going to stand in the middle of the street and shoot them the finger. Where could I leave little or no trace from aerial observation yet live comfortably?

The displays near the book check-out were filled with volumes on caves that week. Caves. Now that was an idea. I looked up habitable caves in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Pfui. I did better looking up neolithic or paleolithic cave dwellers. Since I didn't want to learn how to sail to get to Germany, France or Spain I changed my filter to keep it local. The National Park Service maintained a cave within a middlin' sized park near the Alabama/Tennessee border. The place was calld Russell Cave and had been home to various wandering woodland indian families going back over ten thousand years, if the experts had it right. Since the photocopiers were down for the count I traced out a map using good old onionskin paper. It appeared that the librarians had used it for repairing books, so they had a supply on hand.

Rather than live like a fur trapper in a canvas-roofed cabin I had a real opportunity to construct a stealthy place to live--one that might allow me to maintain a technological level on par with the civil war era, or even World War One. I planned to abandon plastics as much as I could and keep to stainless steel products or galvanized.

At my current rate of travel I was vulnerable from overhead. Those damned flyers were pinning me down like a magnifying glass over an ant farm. I felt trapped. I knew I had to leave the metroplex but I felt that my rate of travel was going to get me killed. I wanted to pursue another, faster avenue.

I realized that I was spinning about, going from project to project and wasting energy, but I had no solution for it. I was trapped in a panic. There was too much to accomplish and no time.

Whatever had wiped us out had done a number on gasoline-powered vehicles. I know--I tried several. The same went for diesel. I had no idea why. Nanites? whatever it was killed my wrist watch and the power generators that first day as well. I was quite thankful that LED flashlights still worked. Propane worked, so a propane-fuelled vehicle should do the trick. The problem was finding one. There sure wasn't anything listed in the yellow pages. I knew that most fork trucks ran on either electricity or propane, but that wasn't what I needed. That's when I had a bolt out of the blue. Golf carts. Propane golf carts. I looked around for the biggest realty office I could find. Regrettably anything they had on golfing communities said nothing about the carts. It was time to go back to the library.

A room was dedicated to local interests. Several magazines were set aside, and some specialized in golf courses as Atlanta was a stop on the pro tour. Stone Mountain featured propane carts because they'd failed miserably with electrics. The damned things didn't make it up and down the hillsides for a day's worth of play. It must have been a rough course!

It took me all night to bike out there. It lay about twenty four miles south east of downtown. I pulled up to the front door of the clubhouse and parked under the awning to keep from being visible from above. I found an open door just as the sun rose. It was a nice place--the membership dues must have cost an arm and a leg. I took a cold shower and washed my clothes by hand. There were some over-priced shirts and pants in the pro shop that I wore until my more utilitarian clothes dried. I kept warm with an afghan draped over my shoulders.

Most everything in the kitchen that might have been fresh was inedible. They had some potatoes that were still good and the ranges were gas-fed. I made up some fried potatoes for breakfast. The little pats of single-serving butter were still edible so I had potatoes with butter. I slept under a poncho liner from my pack. They had comfy couches, I'll give you that. Still, I had leg cramps throughout my sleep--strong enough to wake me up and make me walk them off. I hadn't been on a bicycle in a long time...

After I'd slept out I used the toilet, re-dressed and started exploring to find my propane-fired holy grail.

The whole place had converted to propane. The mowers, golf carts and kitchen--everything but the coolers, dammit. They hadn't gotten that far yet, if they'd ever planned to. Similarly the lights relied on the electric grid as well as the fans and controls for the hot water heater and the heating system. If the cooler and freezer had been propane-driven I'd have damned well stayed there and delt with the rest. Still, I found what I wanted and more--a little Nissan pickup truck with a propane tank in the bed that stretched across it. I had to tear down every box and desk drawer in the maintenance shop to find the damned keys, but I found 'em. Then I had to figure out how to fill the fool thing. Can you say "Comedy of Errors"?

I had canned refried beans and salsa in tortillas for dinner that night.

It was sure a lot easier driving back to the Wal-Mart than it was pedalling my way out had been. On my way back into town I stopped at a truck stop with a service bay. I gave the truck an oil change, replaced the filters and wiper blades, then replaced the battery with the best one I could find. I saw a box of big laminated map books sitting on the shelf and took one.

Since I had quite a bit more storage capacity I carefully trolled through a home building store for a good circular saw, a drill and plenty of bits. The truck was a crew-cab model with four doors, leaving me plenty of space behind the front seat for tools and equipment that I could always keep with me.

Afterwards I returned to "my" Wal-Mart. I tried to park the truck where tracks wouldn't show and the truck itself blended in. It took me over a week to strip the milkfat from all the sweet butter, then sterilize a couple cases of Ball jars and can the clarified butterfat. Clarified butter, otherwise known as ghee, can last for well over five years if canned properly and kept cool.

I stripped out all of the store's soft-sided packs of Spam, chicken and tuna. Pasta elbows cook up fast so I filled a 40-quart storage box with them, broken down into freezer bags for portioning. With a little propane stove and a dutch oven I could easily make camp bread--I'd done it several times before. Unsliced, well-cured bacon will last well over a month without refrigeration, if left open to the air to dehydrate. The pre-cooked bacon offerings don't need refrigeration either. Potatoes and onions will last for seasons if they don't get bruised. I packed the rear of the pickup truck in air-tight boxes full of long-life foods including salt, flour, sugar, powdered milk and Crisco. Once I got to the park and set aside space for storage I'd have to re-evaluate my short and long term plans. This wasn't a freakin' camping trip. This was for all the marbles.

I went back to the military surplus store which I'd previously raided for the rest of their boots, blouses, coats, socks and pants. I figured that it was smarter to deplete a found resource for items that I not only would need, but that I could stow in air-tight containers to keep any bits from oxidizing, be it the leather, cloth or thread. After seeing how full my truck was getting after just hitting two places I set about finding a covered double-axle twenty foot trailer. I'd have to watch the tongue weight so as not to rip the hitch right off of the truck.

Before I left town I raided Dick's sporting goods for base layer insulation and bolt-action .22 rifles. My bolt cutters came in handy to cut the security cable on their rifle rack. I lucked into a couple factory-new Savage bolt-action rifles, one in .22 long and another in .22 magnum. (I'd long held Savage to be one of the top retail manufacturers for quality and value.) They had a few cases of ammunition in the back which must have been someone's special order... 22 and .22 magnum rounds were getting very hard to find.

I thought that it might be smart to have a shotgun on hand as previously domesticated dogs might start running in packs. I didn't want to be dinner on the hoof for fido so I took along a pump-action 12-gauge street sweeper with a box-fed magazine--the sort of thing previously reserved for police and the military.

Keeping with the idea of staying quiet as possible, I picked up a couple nice .22 Benjamin air rifles and all the cans of pellets they had. I only wanted to use the shotgun if my life was in danger. The report from the .22s were negligible. I knew from past experience that the noise would be muffled by foliage.

I had one more stop to make before leaving town. I hit up the library for books on dressing, butchering and preserving meat. Once the preserved stuff was gone, I'd have to hunt for the table. I was thinking about a Jon-boat and a couple trotline setups as well. There's nothing wrong with smoked fish, and until my cooking oil supplies went off a meal of fried fish and potatoes was hard to beat.

I looked at that map which I'd put time into for locating Atlanta's resources. I decided to complete it by filtering through the entire yellow pages.

Oh my God. The South Georgia Seed Company was based out of Atlanta. Their ad didn't give an address, just a post office box. I remembered from my old lessons that libraries carried a reference work, usually for every business in the state, with phone numbers, addresses, employees, income and a big complex number that identified what market sector they addressed. That main Atlanta library's reference section took me over two weeks to inventory. I made a few rather nice discoveries, though. I ended up filling the back seats of my pickup with foot-lockers full of books. I knew that I'd be back for more, too. Lots more.

The seed company warehouse had sealed mylar bags of various combinations of seeds. I took three bags of every selection. To keep from bruising the seeds I packed them wrapped in blankets, packed in more foot-lockers. I was glad to see those herb collections. Regretfully, they didn't stock seed for field crops, and only a few herbs were represented by their kits. I had to find seed stock for potatoes, wheat, corn, beans, rice, oats and barley as well as squash and winter or root vegetables. Some of the root veggies could be still salvaged from the produce departments of grocery stores--onions, garlic, potatoes, turnips, carrots, squash and the like. More seed could probably be found in Ag Co-Op elevators and home stores such as Home Depot or Menard's, depending on what companies patronized the area.

As far as salvage was concerned I was in a target-rich environment. With the pickup's aid, I had Cabelas and Bass Pro Shop well within my range. Still, without a propane dealership close by those plans were for nought.

The cave was a bit over 150 miles away. I would have been there by midnight except I ran without lights, navigating by moonlight. I drove through the Russel Cave Park gates as foxtails foretelling the dawn appeared in the east. I saw no flyers in the air and wondered if they concentrated over the cities. I was quite tired but I smiled broadly as I caught sight of the large visitor's station. The back door, next to the employee parking lot was open, saving me from destroying anything to get in. The place wasn't set up as a residence. There was a small kitchen for the staff and a full complement of bathrooms, enough to cater to a bus full of borderline incontinents. Regrettably, the place depended on electricity to power its facilities--even the kitchen stove. I easily found two beneficial documents--a map of the park and the cave and a circular advertising a local mall.

Finding a propane depot to fill the truck had become my primary concern. With that in mind I kept looking through the office until I found a phone book. Someone or something was looking out for me, despite my sins. There was a propane dealership within an industrial park in Kimball Crossing, just past the advertised mall, about twenty five miles easterly. (The local roads thrashed around like a dying snake. Nothing was in just one direction.)

I emptied the truck, relegating the beautiful visitor's center to being my warehouse. My nanescent library went into a room full of glass display cases and glassed-in book shelves. Afterwards I slept away the day on a couch.

I had a dream as I slept. It was all quite pedestrian; more of a memory than a dream. I drove down to Burger King, waited my turn in line, then smiled at the register attendant and ordered a double whopper and a drink. I watched the crowd out of the corner of my eye, so as not to appear to perv on any of the women or girls. After disposing of my trash I held the door for an older, white-haired couple, politely nodding at the gentleman who smiled and nodded back. Afterwards I picked up my freshly washed laundry and took it home.

I woke in tears, silently crying my heart out. I knew deep down that I'd never see another living human. I'd never flirt with another waitress, complain about the wait in line with the lady behind me or wave at another grocery cart return guy. Man, talk about depressing.

After shaking off my dream I quietly stood at the doorway, searching for signs of the others--the killers. After observing an empty sky for over a half hour I walked down to the cave proper. The place wasnt just one cave with one entrance--it was an interconnected complex, some with rockfalls blocking the passageways. The published map showed six entrances. It looked like some work with the native stone and mortar would give me a secure, easy-to-warm hidden shelter. Now, if I could just use some cable or chain along with the pickup and a snatch block I might possibly move a few of the big boulders that made a maze of the cave floor. They'd make wonderful first layers for my wall building experiments. But then, many were the size of a sedan or larger. I wondered about undermining the leading edges and then applying torque to roll them. The leverage would definitely make the job easier. Perhaps not possible, but easier. I saw dark metal tags decorating the cave ceiling in several places. The brochures said that the department of mines had driven fifteen foot long bolts into the limestone to stabilize it. It appeared that the cave complex had dried up and begun to fall apart ever since the end of the last glaciation but that was a geological process and by definition quite slow. A small spring-fed creek entered by a large entrance and dissappeared into the depths.

Over lunch I figured out how to get my truck's propane tank filled. It would require a double bootstrap procedure to secure a long-term supply.

I had hopes of finding a propane delivery truck with at least a partially full tank. By reason they'd use 12 volts to power the transfer pump. Using a 12-volt feed from my pickup I should be able to pull off enough fuel to top off my truck's tank and fill the reservoir of a tow-behind propane-fuelled generator or welder.

I'd never seen a welder without a high-amperage 220-volt socket and a couple 30-amp 110-volt sockets. If (and this was a potential deal killer) the electric pump that moved the liquid propane at the distribution farm worked on 220 volts rather than 440 I should be able to cut the building power line and wire in a service plug. Propane-fuelled welders and generators were often used in colder climates where diesels were difficult to start, so they were available. Then I'd be able to refill my truck's tank and a distribution truck's tank at will. With Atlanta being as large as it was, there was no way in hell that I wouldn't be able to find the welder that I wanted.

I had no problem finding a delivery truck with some stock in the tank. I had to do a little searching to find the flexible hose adapter to attach a vehicle refill conector to it. Afterwards I wrapped the thing in a blanket and stashed it in the truck's bed for the next use.

The local mall had a Wal-Mart, a Lowe's home building store and a Goodwill outlet. I filled the trailer with 10' long 2x4s and the front seat with rolls of duct tape and visqueen. I had plans to modify that cave. First, after inventorying the spaces available to me I decided on an area to use for construction staging. I emptied the truck, then made several trips up to the visitor's station with loads of indian mannequins that made up the dioramas. The boardwalks would serve nicely to keep my building stock off of the damp sand and dirt.

Another trip to Lowe's got me a heavy winch and a dolly block. They had an automotive service department that I used to jack up the truck and bolt on the winch. I filled the truck and trailer with buckets, shovels, hoes, a couple wrecking bars, an electric cement mixer, a heavy wheelbarrow, a 12-volt water pump and a water hose before heading home.

The next day I found a propane generator at the back of the store, still strapped to a skid. I got it on the back of the truck with the aid of a chain hoist. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get the generator down off the truck with just 2x4s, so I picked up four big pipe vises. With them I could turn a couple armfulls of 2x4s into a 4x40 heavy plank to slide the damned thing down. The winch and a snatch block would provide all the power I'd need. There wasn't much I couldn't do once I had a decent generator on site and a way of keeping it filled.

The keeping it filled part was making me scratch both ends, but I'd figure something out. Hell, if all else failed I'd take one of the small-tanked propane delivery trucks and remove everything on the frame from the cab forward, then hook up a tow bar. With the right fiddlin' I'd be able to get the front tires to track and follow the tow bar because the front end was already articulated--it just didn't have the reinforcement necessary to tow the weight of a full propane tank. The Lowe's service department's chain hoist had helped me out once. There was no reason that it couldn't again to get the engine and cab lifted off of a truck's frame...

The cave's low ceiling was getting on my nerves. I'd read that there was several feet of overbear covering the rock floor.

A trip to the town streets and sanitation department got me a slurry pump with a four inch inlet and a section of hose. It was my first test case at converting a motor to use propane. I was careful, read the instructions and took my time.

I used the water from the spring to mud-up the crud making up the cave floors and pumped it outside into a ravine. When I started to hit big stones I stopped and left it as a level floor, some four to six feet lower than it had been, giving me a ceiling height of between ten and twelve feet.

I could work during the day and not worry about escaping light being seen from the outside, but I'd be vulnerable to detection at night. I spent well over four months moving rocks, mixing cement and building walls. I left an opening to the ceiling high and wide enough to drive my truck and the propane refill trailer in and out. I about wore out my index finger spraying waterproofer over both sides of the wall to keep it from weeping and make it durable. I'd built it recessed into the cave entrance a bit to hide it from observation.

I mounted a couple of heavy beams into the floor and ceiling with star drills and bolts, then fabricated a pair of solid wood doors out of heavy landscaping timbers. I painted the insides for longevity, but for the outside I nailed on several layers of chicken wire then hand applied a concrete parge. When the door was dry I broke off sections of stone to glue to the plain cement face. I had to chip a slot in the cave ceiling to get the door high enough with concrete jacks to come down over the hinge pins. It cold only be locked or unlocked from the inside with two pair of long poles. I couldn't figure out how to make the doors strong enough so that I couldn't bull through them. Then I hit on using a removable center post that the poles socketed to. I went through more star drills to make pockets in the limestone than I care to remember. I had to use steel cables and turnbuckles to keep the swinging doors from scraping arcs out in the floor. If the post was in place I could swing them closed and drop a couple steel stakes in floor sockets, all within about two minutes. That would give me the four minutes or so I'd need to drag out the heavy 6x6 beams and lift them into place

Once I finished the barrier walls that gave me some environmental control I just kept on building. Hell, I didn't have anything else to do and it gave me something that I really needed--a sense of security.

I pecked out a 2' x 3' wide opening in the wall about four feet off the ground, then sank in some heavy barn hinges with a grease-gun full of industrual adhesive, then made a pair of reinforced concrete shutters to cover it. Borrowing from barn technology again, I set in a pair of recievers to hold a 2x4 to keep them closed.

I started building a stone cabin inside the cave. Hell, I had all the stone I could wish for. After I got done with it, I took a good look and turned it into a smoke-house with stone partition walls separated by simple pre-hung doors between the rooms. The roof was a real bitch to put up.

That spring I was driving around Atlanta's ring road just looking around, looking for something I could use. My attention was caught by something in a used car lot. Someone had brought in a vacation trailer to trade.

Now, wouldn't that be the cat's pajamas? I'd have to figure out how to get rid of the sewage somehow, but Jesus--hot showers and a warm, dry, soft bed behind mosquito netting. Hmmm. This was worth investing some time into. A phone book hooked me up with a place called Trailer World just north of Atlanta. It was a big operation and had a lot of money tied up in inventory. Since I had an unlimited budget I looked through the high-end units. I surely overloaded the hitch weight and tried not to exceed ten to fifteen miles an hour on the way back. I didn't want the thing to start bouncing and multiply the weight on the hitch from dynamic loading. I spent the daytime hours sleeping away the hours while parked underneath gas station overhangs to hide from eyes in the sky. Those damned triangular fliers passed overhead periodically but not in a set schedule that I could determine.

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