Chapter 10

Copyright© 2000 by Al Steiner

Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story: Chapter 10 - When Comet Fenwell crashes into the Pacific Ocean one October day, it spells the end for most of humanity. Those that survive find themselves in a greatly changed world filled with different morals and the same old urges.

Caution: This Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Ma/ft   Fa/ft   Consensual   Reluctant   BiSexual   Science Fiction   Post Apocalypse   Group Sex   Sex Toys   Violent   comet crashes into earth story, end of civilization story

The soldiers that had marched on Grass Valley had been back in Auburn for three days now. Their mission had been a complete success in many different ways. First and foremost, the small gold country town had been fairly rich in food stocks. The residents had been in possession of more than twice what the early recon unit sent there had predicted. The town had also had a fairly sizable, though poorly armed, population. After a battle of less than thirty minutes, during which six Grass Valley residents had been killed, the town, its will to fight destroyed, surrendered unconditionally. The victorious 2nd and 4th platoons had returned with a total of 130 fresh women to be bartered over and traded, and 40 additional men that could be conscripted into the Placer County Militia as soldiers. The captured women had already been doled out by lottery to the men in town and had taken their places as junior wives. The captured men were still being held in the high school buildings where they were being "taught" the Auburn way. Most of them seemed receptive to the teachings but there was still that disturbing trend of males that would rather die then enjoy the paradise being offered to them. There had been four of them in the Grass Valley group so far and there were two more that seemed unhappy and teetering on the brink.

As bountiful as the mission itself had turned out to be, perhaps the greatest achievement had been the manner in which the platoons and their spoils of war had returned. Instead of marching exhausted into town, their prisoners laden with supplies, everyone on the verge of total exhaustion, they had driven into town in a caravan of four-wheel drive pickups and SUVs. Though great sections of Highway 49, the main route from Auburn to Grass Valley, had been washed away or buried, enough of the side routes had been left intact to bypass these sections. The going had been very rough in a few places it was reported, and sometimes the caravan had had to swing miles out of their way in order to find a passable route, but it had been done. The entire group had made it all the way back utilizing roadways and vehicles, making the trip in only eight hours instead of the nine days that it took on foot. The possibilities that this roadway opened up was very exciting and Barnes was spending most of his time thinking of ways to exploit it.

This quick return had also moved up the timetable on the Garden Hill mission. Since the platoons had returned more than a week early and since they did not need the extended rest period that typically was required after a mission, they were now, at 7:00 AM, assembled on the lawn of the high school undergoing final inspection before moving out. They stood in razor sharp lines, at brisk attention, their weapons on their shoulders, their packs, heavily laden with food and extra ammunition, upon their backs. There were four platoons of forty men each. Each platoon was divided into four squads of ten. Each squad was equipped with two automatic weapons and eight semi-automatic weapons in addition to shotguns, tear gas guns, and one sniper rifle. Colonel Barnes walked slowly up and down the lines, looking at each soldier that he was about to send out, saying a few words to each of them. Finally, the inspection complete, he stood at the head of the formation, next to Acting Captain Bracken, and addressed them as a group.

"Men," he told them, "today you embark upon yet another great mission for this town, the greatest one yet. You will be conquering a poorly defended, though heavily armed, walled encampment after a march of nearly two weeks. Now this will be the furthest that we've extended our reach to this point, and this will also be the largest scale expedition that we've mounted. I know you are not equipped with as many automatic weapons as you usually are on such a trip, nor as much personal ammunition, but the trade-off is greater numbers. I have seen Acting Captain Bracken's attack plans and they are good ones. I couldn't have done it better myself. If the residents of Garden Hill do not surrender peacefully and agree to join our ranks as we hope they will do, you will easily prevail in this fight, most likely without taking casualties.

"Before you go, let me remind you one more time of our mission. Strength through numbers and firepower and unity of the California region under the laws of God and man. God willing - and I'm sure he is - we will prevail in this battle and all that follow and we will be in a position of strength when civilization begins to rebuild. Always remember that. It is our job to be the strongest during the rebuilding for it will be the strongest that will reshape human society for thousands of years to come. We are the founding fathers men. Take that with you, and my God bless you on your trip. That is all."

The men seemed heartened by this speech, liking the idea that they were founding fathers, the conquerors of the world. Barnes gave them a stiff salute and dismissed them for their mission. Bracken took over at that point and ordered them into marching formation facing towards the east.

"Forward, MARCH!" he yelled.

In perfect step, they began to move, their weapons clanking smartly upon their backs.

Jean Doleman and Anna Hampton watched them go from a second floor window of one of the classrooms in the school. Jean and Anna, both of whom were wives of Bracken, were part of the cleaning staff for the main building. They were responsible for keeping the top floor of the building up to military specifications and they spent at least ten hours of any given day mopping, dusting, and wiping in order to accomplish this goal. For a woman in Auburn, this was actually considered a favorable assignment and it had been bestowed upon them because of their husband's high rank in the militia.

"Thank God he's gone," Jean whispered softly to her co-wife. "We're safe for at least another three weeks."

"Yeah," Anna, the older of the two replied sourly, "but while we're safe from his hands pawing at us he's going out to kill our only hope for salvation."

The two women were from vastly different backgrounds. Anna, who was twenty-eight, had been a loan officer at the Auburn branch of the Bank of America before the comet. A pre-comet divorcee, she had been chosen early in the aftermath as Bracken's wife because of her classy beauty. Bracken had had his eye on her since long before the collapse of civilization. He had been a frequent visitor to the bank and had asked her out weekly, getting turned down just as regular as clockwork. She had sustained her share of beatings in the beginning before she had learned that there was no point in resisting him. At least he hadn't traded her to Stu or one of his men, a fate that was the worst nightmare of any Auburn woman.

Jean, on the other hand, was not from Auburn at all. A nineteen-year-old high school dropout, she had lived in Meadow Vista, the first town the militia had attacked in force. In pre-comet life she had worked full time in a small, family owned bait shop on the outskirts of town. Her father and mother had been down in Sacramento for the day when the comet had hit and had died down there. Her brother had been one of the leaders of the defense that the Meadow Vistans had put up when the militia came to town and he had been gunned down in the streets for his efforts. Jean's small-town-girl good looks and healthy breasts had attracted the leader of the invading forces - Lieutenant Corban - and she had spent nearly three weeks as his wife before being traded to Bracken just before the recon trip to Garden Hill. She could not count the number of times she had been raped and beaten by both of her "husbands" since then.

Though Bracken had two other wives currently, neither Anna nor Jean liked or trusted them. Kelly, the beautiful blonde he had picked up in Colfax, had decided long ago that the way to keep in her husband's favor was by informing on the other wives when she observed them breaking the rules. More than one beating had been attributed to her tattletale behaviors. And Sharon, another Auburn acquisition from early in the aftermath, was just plain insane, her mind apparently broken from the strain of life these days. Kelly spent much of her time caring for Sharon and it was only because no one else had offered a trade for her that she was still around at all.

Jean and Anna had gotten along well with each other since the very first day that Jean had been traded into "the family" as Bracken called it. Anna had been the one to explain to her on that first night, after Bracken had "broken her in", how to best avoid future beatings and other forms of punishment. She had shared with her various tips on how best to get Bracken to orgasm as quickly as possible during sexual encounters in order to get it over with for the night ("call him Lieutenant while he's fucking you," she'd advised, "it does it every time"). She'd explained about Bracken's fetish for suddenly sticking his penis into an anus during intercourse and how best to avoid pain during such times ("lube yourself up with Vaseline beforehand and don't clench down - relax").

As the days went by and the weeks went on the two women had grown closer and closer to each other, sharing their secrets during moments of solitude on work detail or when Bracken was off on a mission. This closeness and friendship was enhanced by the reality that there was really no one else in town that they could confide in or get close to. For a woman living in Auburn, life was very much like Nazi Germany during World War II or Oceania in Orwell's 1984. So cowered were the women in town that there was no way of telling who you could trust and who would inform, who had been pushed over the edge and who still had the spark of rebellion within them. Undoubtedly the majority of the women were miserable with their lot in life and would be sympathetic ears to others that shared their fate. But the men of Auburn feared organization of any kind by the women as much as plantation owners in the south had once feared slave organization. It was well known that many of the town's women had adapted the defense that Kelly had; that of garnering favors with the men by informing on their own kind.

Anna and Jean had naturally talked of escaping from Auburn from time to time - there was hardly a woman in town who had not thought of such a thing. It sounded so liberating to discuss slipping out during the night and disappearing forever, never to see Auburn or its men again. Like many such fantasies, the harsh realities of the situation put a damper on it. Five women had tried to escape from their captivity at various times in the past and of those five, there was only one that had possibly made it. Two had been captured trying to slip out past the defenses and had been hung the next day. Two others had made it out only to be dragged back the next morning and hung later that afternoon. Only Marla Brown had managed to both get out and avoid capture by the pursuing troops. And what had become of Marla? Nobody knew for sure of course but Jean remembered what it had looked like on the march from Meadow Vista to Auburn and both of the women heard their husband talk to others about the sights he'd seen on his missions. There was nothing out there to live on - nothing at all - and there were no indications that Marla had smuggled any food out with her. And there was nowhere for her to go where she could expect to be taken in, nowhere until Garden Hill anyway. As much as they wanted to believe that she had made it to safety and was even now living in comfort and freedom, the odds were that Marla was lying dead out there somewhere, her corpse eaten by the scavengers that remained.

"But she could have made it to Garden Hill," Jean had said on more than one occasion, the words sounding like a lie told to children. "She could have." Even Anna, who's educated mind was a little sharper than her younger companion's, found slight comfort in these words. The news that there was a functioning community in Garden Hill had served to electrify many of the town's women, especially after the first recon mission when eyewitness accounts revealed that the community consisted mostly of women and that these women were being used as soldiers. Women who were packing guns and helping defend their town were not women who were being treated as property by the men. Could there be hope in Garden Hill? Could there be a new way of life there?

Perhaps there could have been but that hope was now within two weeks or so of being destroyed. Though Bracken did not discuss the layout of forces in Garden Hill with his wives he had no problem discussing these things around them when other men were present. Both Anna and Jean had heard many times over that Garden Hill consisted of only about thirty men and two hundred or so women and children. They had heard about the poor defenses being utilized to defend themselves and they had personally seen one hundred and sixty armed men heading off to take the town. Jean could testify in intimate detail how efficient the militia was at what they did. If they were going to take the town, they would take it, more than likely without firing a shot.

"Well," Anna said now as she watched the line of soldiers disappear in the distance, "it was a nice fantasy while it lasted. Goodbye to Garden Hill."

"Yeah," Jean said softly. "I only hope now that Marla didn't make it there. Can you imagine what they'll do to her if they find her?"

"They'll make an example out of her," Anna told her, turning from the window. "But at least we have a few weeks without Asshole around."

"There's always that," Jean smiled, stepping closer. She put her arms around her co-wife, pulling her body against her. "It'll be nice to sleep in peace with you again, without worrying about him catching us. All we'll have to worry about is Kelly, and she sleeps like the dead."

"Yes," Anna agreed, smiling back, feeling her breasts touching Jean's through their shirts. "I have missed that while he's been home."

Though neither of the two women had ever had lesbian tendencies before the comet, the realities of the aftermath and their mutual need of tenderness and affection in a world where such things were rare, had driven them into each others arms early in their relationship. The first night had been while Bracken had been off on his recon mission to Garden Hill. They had stayed up late that night doing the family laundry while Kelly and Sharon had been sleeping and their talk had turned to masturbation. Soon they had found themselves touching each other and kissing. Soon after that they had been licking each other to orgasm. After that first night they had been together many times - always in secret, either late at night or during their workday - since Bracken would have beaten them severely and probably traded one of them had he known what was going on. Homosexuality was strictly forbidden in Auburn.

"I have a surprise for you tonight," Anna said to her lover as her lips reached out to kiss her softly.

"What is it?" Jean asked, licking at the protruding tongue that slid out at her.

"It's something I made out of that deodorant container and some nylon straps," she told her, sucking her lower lip into her mouth. "We'll play with it tonight after the bitch goes to bed."

"I can't wait," Jean replied, letting her head fall back on her shoulders as Anna slid her mouth down to her neck.

"I think you'll like it," she told her, tasting the much-loved flesh. "But for now, why don't we have a little warm-up?"

"Oh yes," Jean breathed, her hands dropping down to Anna's breasts.

Slowly Anna sank to her knees, so her face was right in line with the buttons of Jean's pants. She unbuttoned and unzipped them, pulling them down to her ankles and revealing the white cotton panties beneath. The crotch of the panties was already starting to get damp. She pulled them down, baring the hairy bush of black hair that covered Jean's sex and releasing the odor of musk into the air.

Since they were in the very building that served as the administration center for Auburn and since they were committing a crime against the laws of Auburn, they could not afford the luxury of actually removing their clothing. They had long since learned to live with this. She pushed the clothing as far down Jean's legs as possible, so they were puddled up around her shoes. This allowed her to bring her knees and thighs apart far enough for Anna to put her face in there.

Jean sighed softly as Anna's tongue slipped between her wet lips and stabbed into her body. She let her hands fall to her hair where she began twisting and turning her fingers in it.

Anna licked at her expertly, lapping up and down the length of her slit for several minutes before attacking the swollen clit with lips and tongue. She sucked gently on the clit at first and then with more force, drawing a leg-wobbling orgasm from her that nearly made her fall down.

And then it was Jean's turn. She pulled her pants back up and fastened them carefully before kneeling down before Anna and unfastening hers. Anna's pubic hair was dark brown and naturally sparse, her odor sharp and excitingly biting. Jean buried her face between those slender thighs and went to work, her tongue probing into the depths like a small penis. Anna's hands played with Jean's large breasts through her sweater as she was ministered to. Soon the lapping and probing did its work and she was coming, her pelvis gyrating back and forth uncontrollably, wetting her lover's face.

After, they held each other and exchanged wet kisses, both of them tasting their own juices on the other woman's lips and tongue.

"I love you, Anna," Jean said quietly. "I never thought I'd say that to another woman, but I do."

"I know," Anna replied, giving her one last kiss. "And I love you too."

"Somehow, some way, we have to get out of here. We have to."

"I know, sweetie," she said. "I know."

At about the same time, Chrissie, Brett, and Michelle were waking up in the large bed of the master bedroom. Though no further sexual activity had taken place between them after their return from the community bathing area, all three had climbed into the bed together for the first time, sleeping naked and huddled together. Brett had been in the middle, the two women on either side. They all looked at each other a little sheepishly as they opened their eyes in the dim bedroom.

"Good morning, girls," Brett said, stretching a little, feeling soreness in his muscles.

"Good morning," Michelle said, leaning over and giving him a kiss on the lips. Her breast rubbed against his arm as she did so.

Chrissie gave a weak smile - she was feeling decidedly strange after the events of the previous night - but she too wished everyone a good morning and gave Brett a peck on the lips. She looked up at Michelle, wondering if she was supposed to kiss her as well. Was that the proper etiquette after you had a semi-lesbian encounter with your co-wife? Why had Miss Manners never addressed such a topic before?

"How are you feeling, Chris?" Michelle asked her, making no move to share a good morning kiss.

"Okay," she said with a shrug.

Michelle continued to stare back at her for a moment, trying to read her face. "Good," she finally said. "Glad to hear it."

They climbed out of bed and began their morning routines a minute later. This made everyone feel a little better since they were back on familiar ground. They all used the bathroom (Chrissie and Brett still shutting the door when they peed, Michelle letting everyone see her business) and then went about their morning maintenance chores. Brett shaved off the nine days worth of beard from his face, having to use a pair of scissors to get the top layer. Michelle and Chrissie both sponged themselves off with the soapy cold water from their collection bucket and then went about combing and fastening their hair. Unlike most of the women in town, neither one of Brett's bothered with makeup or fancy hairstyles. Plain faces and simple ponytails were enough.

"So what's the plan for the day?" Chrissie asked, finally breaking the silence that had prevailed. "Do you want me to take the afternoon shift in one of the posts?" Since gaining an additional sixteen volunteers for the guard force, the four original members had all been able to cut their hours back to only six a day.

"No," Brett told her. "I'm going to keep you in charge of the guards for the time being. I'm going to have too much to do with the helicopter and with getting my next class of sixteen through to handle the routine stuff. In fact, I'm toying with the idea of just keeping you as the guard supervisor permanently."

"Permanently?" Chrissie said, alarmed. "Brett, I can't replace you."

"Sure you can," he said. "You did it while I was gone didn't you? And from what I've heard, you've managed to command a little respect doing it. More than one person has come up and told me how great of a job you've done."

"But what if we're attacked again?" she said.

"If a large scale attack occurs, then I'll be in charge of operations," he told her. "But for all of the small stuff like staffing, partner conflicts, anything like that, you seem to be doing fine."


"Take the promotion, Chris," Michelle said, smiling at her as she pulled on her jeans over a fresh pair of panties. "It'll get you out of the damn guard bunkers."

"And I'll tell you what else I'll do," Brett said.


"I'll double your salary."

And so Chrissie became the first Garden Hill security supervisor, establishing a chain of command of sorts.

"What about me?" Michelle wanted to know. "Should I man a post today? I'm rested up enough."

"Don't ask me," Brett said. "It is now officially beneath me to worry about shit like that. Ask your supervisor."

They left for breakfast a few minutes later, their moods much brighter. On the way they met Paul and Janet, whose house was three doors down. They all fell in together.

Jessica stood behind the lunch counter, a large white apron tied around her waist, a large spoon in her hands. She stood before a steaming platter of powdered eggs that Stacy and Tina had dressed up with various spices and seasonings to taste almost palatable. As each person approached she would shovel a bit off the eggs onto a plate, add a little of the pork jerky that they had made back at the beginning, and then put one piece of the bread that had been baked the previous day atop that. Nobody thanked her as she handed him or her their plates; nobody talked to her at all, though a few gave her contemptuous looks. She kept her face expressionless as she had been doing for nearly three weeks now. She had become quite good at it.

Behind her expressionless face on this morning was a certain amount of glee and anticipation. Today was going to be the day of her liberation. She was confident that by dinner this evening she would be back in power, her chief tormentor dead, his supporter, Paul, in custody pending exile. She could feel the weight of the .45 pistol resting in her waistband, beneath her apron. It was the weight of justice about to happen.

Her glee increased when she saw the target of this justice enter the community center gym through the back door. He was in the company of that lesbian slut and that child they were corrupting, Paul and his bimbo right behind them. They took up a position at the end of the line, patiently waiting their turn for their food. There were maybe twenty people between him and her. Less than five minutes to wait, she figured.

Her plan was a simple one. She would wait until he was directly in front of her and then she would shoot him dead right in front of everyone, putting the pistol down before the slut or the child had a chance to draw theirs. People would be shocked at first, that was a given. They would probably whisk her away to a locked room for a while. That was all right. She expected that. But eventually she would be allowed to defend her actions before the town. She would be allowed to speak to them. She could sway a crowd like no one else could, had been doing it all of her life. Without that snake Brett to counter her words, she knew she would be able to convince the people of the town that she had acted in their best interests. These women were her people. They had been bred and raised just as she had. She had no doubt that if she was just able to talk to them for ten minutes, to remind them of the morality and the values that they were all tossing away just because of the comet, they would see the foolishness of their recent actions. They would see that Brett and his followers represented evil and corruption. They would see that they needed to follow her instead.

Her mind, which had become more than a little unstable since that fateful night when she had tried to expel Brett by community vote, had not one time considered that her speech, no matter how moving, would not be powerful enough to justify murder. She had not considered, even once, that maybe she had been wrong all of this time and that maybe it was time to change her views a little. All she knew is that she had been torn from power and that Brett was responsible for it. If Brett were gone, she would be the only one capable of filling that void. The town would know that and they would put her back in charge, where she could be somebody instead of a lowly kitchen worker. She just knew it.

Paul and Janet were in the front of the group. Then came Chrissie, Brett, and then Michelle. Behind them in line were Matt, who was working an afternoon shift in the bridge bunker, and his wife Maureen. They were talking about the subject of marriage in their town.

"So it's my thoughts," Matt was saying, "that we should have some sort of formal ceremony for couples here in Garden Hill."

"Couples?" Michelle asked, raising her eyebrows a tad.

"Or triples," he allowed, "or even quadruples. My point is that when someone around here enters into what is a committed, permanent relationship, there needs to be some sort of legalistic and binding ritual to it. The marriage should be recorded and logged and there should even be a ceremony of sorts to accompany it, maybe even something like a ring given or a necklace."

"What do we have to do all that for?" Chrissie asked, shuffling forward a few feet as the line moved. "It's not like there are health benefits or tax breaks that you get by being married."

"No," Matt agreed, "there are no legalistic benefits to it under these circumstances, that it true. But by having a ceremony of some sort and by recording the nuptials, we are legitimizing the relationships and adding weight to the commitment factor. The people involved in such relationships have to declare before their peers that they are committed to each other permanently and hope to remain together for life. In every society, from primitive bushmen to that monstrosity that we had before the comet, the permanence of a mating relationship involves some sort of ritual for this very reason. Without it, there is nothing to bind the people together. There will be no step beyond simple flirtation and infatuation that shows everyone that a commitment has been made."

"I see," Chrissie said softly, mostly understanding what he had said.

"I think that's a real good idea," Brett said, looking at his two wives, as he now thought of them. "There could be a standard ceremony with vows and all that. When we three decided to do this, we vowed certain things before each other just so that we would all understand what was expected."

"Right," Matt said. "You did it privately but I think it should be done publicly, in front of everyone. And there should be some sort of symbol of the relationship."

They continued to discuss the various aspects of what a ceremony and a symbol would entail. As they did so, they slowly moved forward in the line, until Paul and Janet were getting their eggs put onto their plates by Jessica.

Brett began to get a little twitch on the back of his neck as he got closer to the woman he had humiliated in front of the town. It was just a little one, it's origin unknown, but it made him take a real good look at her. On the surface nothing seemed different about her. She was wordlessly shoveling eggs, meat, and bread onto a plate as each person passed her position. It was the same thing she did every day. But something was different today. After a moment he figured out what it was. She kept glancing over at him, quick, semi-furtive glances as if she was checking his positioning. Normally she avoided looking at him at all when he approached her. Why was she doing that this morning? Was something going on?

As Chrissie took her plate, the sensation became even stronger. Chrissie hesitated for a moment, her eyes worried. She looked at Jessica and then at Brett. It was obvious that she felt something as well. Finally, with nothing concrete to act upon, she moved to the side, allowing Brett to step up.

As he stood in front of her his senses were on high alert status. His eyes tracked her every move, her every twitch, watching for the slightest thing out of the ordinary. He didn't have to wait very long.

Just as she finished putting the food on his plate, as he was reaching down to pick it up, she suddenly turned around. Her hands reached under her apron, grabbing at something in her waistband. Now Brett had something tangible to base his fears upon. He had seen that move before during his time as a cop and had learned to fear it. The last thing a cop wants to see is someone reaching under their clothing and grabbing at something. His hand started to drop to the pistol on his belt.

It was a very close thing. Jessica was fast pulling the weapon out and turning towards him. Almost too fast. She had stayed up until well past midnight practicing the move she was now executing. It took her less than a second to draw the .45 from her belt and turn towards Brett to fire it, much too fast for Brett to get his own pistol free of his holster. She spun around with a triumphant smile upon her face and a mad glint in her eyes, knowing that her plans were coming neatly together.

Fortunately for Brett, Jessica had not yet taken his firearms training class. If she had, she would have known that she was breaking a primary rule of such engagements. The rule was that you never point a gun at someone who was within arms reach of you if you could help it. The reason for this rule was about to become very clear to her.

Unable to get his pistol out in time, Brett instead reached out with his left hand and grabbed her wrist just as she was bringing the gun to bear on him. He sidestepped to the right, removing his body from the line of fire and tried to force her wrist downward. She pulled the trigger just as he cleared the front of the weapon.

The gunshot was shockingly loud in the echo chamber that the gym was. The bullet blasted out of the barrel and out across the open area where people were sitting. It passed within four inches of Stephanie Mills' head, close enough for her to see a streak of gray shooting past her eyes. It passed through Mike Carlton's juice glass, shattering it and spraying everyone around him with Tang. It then hit the wooden surface of the cafeteria table, peeling a four-inch section off, before ricocheting upward, passing six inches from Darlene Sampson's throat, and finally climbing high enough to miss everyone else. It buried itself in the far wall of the gym six tenths of a second after it was fired.

"Motherfucker!" Jessica screamed just before Brett swung a right hook into her face. He felt the meaty thump of his knuckles shattering her nose and covering his hand with her warm blood. The blow stunned her just enough so that he was able to force her hand downward before her fingers could pull the trigger again. The gun exploded with noise once more but the bullet went harmlessly into the polished wooden surface of the floor.

Brett reached for his gun again, acting completely on instinct, but before he could draw it Chrissie grabbed Jessica by the hair and pulled her head downward, slamming her onto the table right into her tray of eggs. Michelle also acted, jumping onto her back and getting her hands around her neck, utilizing the chokehold that Brett had shown his students during their training. Now, without a shot, Brett's hand abandoned its quest for his gun and instead concentrated upon getting hers away from her. His left hand was still holding her wrist so his right hand joined it. While Chrissie and Michelle kept her from getting up, he slammed her arm up and down against the edge of the serving table, twisting it back and forth. She managed to fire one more shot, which again went harmlessly into the floor, and then the gun finally fell from her hand. Brett gave it a sharp kick, sending it spinning across the floor.

"Get her on the floor," Brett yelled as Paul, Maureen, and Matt all stepped up to help. "On her stomach!"

They pulled her over the table kicking and screaming and onto the floor. There was a clatter as the food trays were pulled off the table as well. She thumped down hard enough to expel the contents of her lungs in a painful gasp. Michelle, still trying to choke her out, went over the table with her and landed atop her. Brett, Chrissie, and the others all dropped to the floor as Jessica tried to kick and squirm her way free of them. She was trying to yell obscenities at them but didn't quite have the breath to do so.

At Brett's direction they pinned her legs against the floor and forced her hands behind her back, twisting them painfully upward towards her shoulder blades. By now a large crowd was standing around them, watching in awe at the struggle.

"Somebody get us some fucking rope!" Brett, fighting to keep her right arm in position, yelled.

"I got it," Paul, who had not been involved in the fracas, shouted. He ran off towards the nearest door, heading for one of the supply rooms.

Three minutes later it was done. While she continued to scream incoherent obscenities and threats, they tied her hands behind her back, cinching the rope tight enough to reduce the blood flow to her hands.

"Let's get her in an empty room," Paul said, hooking his arm through hers and pulling her to her feet. She immediately began kicking at anyone who happened to be near.

"Let me go!" she screamed. "Goddammit, let me go! He needs to die! Don't you see that? He needs to die!"

Paul and Michelle forcibly dragged her across the room, Chrissie walking in front of them. She opened the far door for them and they pulled her through it, still screaming that Brett had to die.

Two hours later Paul found Brett in the park's maintenance shed. He was helping Steve Kensington remove the aluminum water tank from the grass fighting truck so that it could be used to transport fuel. The entire rig had been jacked up and placed on stands to allow enough clearance for the tank to be slid out once it was freed from its mountings. The going was fairly slow and Brett was serving very much in the apprentice role. Steve, who had been a pool cleaner before the comet, had also been quite adept at automotive mechanics and certainly knew his way around a toolbox better.

"How's it going?" Paul asked, lighting a cigarette as he watched Steve dismantle the hose deck of the rig.

"We're getting there," Brett said, dropping the wrench he had been using and walking over. "Hopefully we'll have it out in another hour or two and then we can start thinking about reinforcing it."

"Do you think you will be ready to fly tomorrow?" Brett was planning on a mission to recover the maintenance supplies and a tank full of jet fuel from Cameron Park the next day.

"More than likely as long as Steve doesn't fuck up that tank," he said.

"Hey now," Steve said lightly. "Be nice."

"I've also stripped the chopper of every unnecessary piece of equipment," Brett said. "I took out the litter, the medical supplies, even the cabinets that they were stored in. In all I lightened it up by about two hundred pounds and created a little more room. I got room for an extra passenger now or two hundred more pounds of cargo."

"Are you gonna do a little recon while you're up there?" Paul wanted to know.

"Maybe on the way out," he said. "I still have more than three hundred pounds of fuel on board. I thought maybe I'd take a swing down through Colfax and Auburn, just to see if anything's left there. Once I'm over the valley I can cut to the south and pick up Highway 50 as a navigation reference to Cameron Park. What other towns are along the 50 corridor? Any chance that they will be standing?"

"There's Placerville," Paul said. "It was the biggest between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe but I imagine its pretty much gone. It sat down in a gully, right where all of the water and mud would have drained. Keep an eye out for El Dorado Hills though. It was the first town in the foothills as Highway 50 climbed out of the valley. It was mostly an upper middle class suburb, a little bigger than this town. Portions of it might still be standing."

"Sounds like a plan," Brett said, wondering just what he would do if he found people in those towns. Would he try to make contact? Would he just note their presence and then fly on?

"I just finished up my little talk with Jessica," Paul said, changing the subject. It had been decided shortly after the attempt on Brett's life that Paul should be the one to question her despite Brett's greater experience at criminal interrogation. It didn't seem exactly kosher for the victim of the crime to be the one performing the investigation.

"Did you?" he asked. "And what did she have to say for herself?"

Paul shook his head a little. "It's something that really has to be seen to be believed," he said, lowering his voice to keep Steve from hearing. "I videotaped the conversation like you suggested. If need be I'll play it at the community meeting tonight."

"Did she confess to trying to kill me?" he asked. "Or did she try to say it was some sort of misunderstanding?"

"She confessed," he said. "She told me quite plainly that she had planned to kill you in front of the townspeople to keep you from corrupting them even further. She's really gone around the bend, Brett. She actually believes that she was trying to do this town a favor. She's not just justifying her actions like she normally does, she really believes that. She thought that she would kill you and then address the town and convince them to go back to following her as their leader."

"Just like that huh?" he asked.

"Just like that," he said. "I think that removing her from the committee and facing her down in front of the town made something snap inside of her. Do you remember that discussion we had a long time ago about what she would do if her sense of worth was threatened?"

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