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Tales From The Mountain Hold - Galt's Passage

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Tales From The Mountain Hold

 

Galt's Passage

By

Tyler Danann

 

 

This is a work of fiction.* All the Characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

*

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

*

COPYRIGHT-2013

 

Chapter 1

 

Prison Town

 

Independent States And Republic

Year 1 - Post USA Era

 

Old Galt stood over six feet tall with beaming hazel-green eyes. A man born with the sign of the fiery pioneer in him but one who had been on the verge of melancholy.

 

This day though did not see him take up his usual despondent manner at the ramparts of Gelstown. Instead, as evening moved to night-time he had the people loyal to him gather round. They were like children to him in some ways and he the aloof father, but he loved them in spite of their faults. For too long now the place of Gelstown had changed, not a change for the better. It had gone from comfortable confines, to smothering regulations and finally to a walled-prison. Like a sheperd guiding his flock he laid out his plan, a breakout of Gelstown.

 

First the town’s leader, Ferdez had been accepting and friendly, especially appreciating the supplies and skills the newcomers had brought with them. In turn the newcomers found the sanctuary, with its walled perimeter and ditches ample defense against the nomadic raider bands who still preyed on folk.

For Galt and his followers the first three months had been as much a relief as they were exciting. For the items that had seemed as much elusive as they had been a luxury were now much closer to hand and obtainable.

 

Three times a band of tenacious raiders struck Gelstown. Three times they were repelled. The last time with heavy losses. Old Galt himself being slightly wounded at the last clash.

 

It had been nearly a season after ‘The Fall’ and, as Galt had feared, the new-civilization that would rise out of the ashes of the old one was not altogether benevolent. The old mentalities and prejudices Galt had hoped would be burned away for fresher, more in-tune ways to blossom still lingered.

For while Galt’s wounded shoulder mended, a cancer that would not die rotted at the heart of Gelstown.

Ferdez, a likeable man was trusted by Galt’s people.

As he was originally one of the surviving town’s council men he took the reluctant leadership of the town.

 

Instead of being a commander first and decisive in the way Gelstown would go in this brave new world Ferdez instead took the softly approach. Commendable in winning favour but also instrumental in devolving powers to dozens of his favorites. These became known as Magistrates and Galt was quick to recognize the true power behind Gelstown.

 

*

 

Galt himself, before The Fall of Technology, was caught exposed on the highway, leading his few people to the mountain haven. He cursed himself for not organising a leaving a few weeks earlier, but last minute temptation’s for more this and that had delayed him. By the time they’d managed only fifty miles distance ‘The Changing’ occurred and their once reliable machines were powerless hunks of metal. Rocked to the core by his failure Galt squared his shoulders and shouldered his pack.

 

It was too far to trek into the mountains, they being over a hundred miles away.

The maps showed Gelstown was only ten miles distant and, fighting off raiders and marauders several times, his band of fifty survived to live another day.

What they survived, Galt realised, was to swop the enemy without, for an enemy within.

Much more secretive and insidious, ideologically opposed to the spirit of freedom and the flame of insight.

 

His first fear was realised when several ‘covenants’ were passed by order of the ‘Magistrates Council’.

 

Inwardly Galt had hoped they were 'in name only', but while preparing a simple breakfast of cold oat meal, Galt heard a strange noise at the door. Kind of a scratching noise, then a sharp thump. It didn't sound like someone was trying to break in, but it didn't sound like a curious animal either.

 

He pulled his revolver out of the holster at his side, cocked the hammer, and moved slowly to the door. He paused, listening for further sounds. When he heard nothing else he unlatched the door, edged it open an inch, and peaked out. There was something fluttering against the door.

 

He pulled the door open further, revealing a piece of rough paper nailed to his door with a rusty, obviously salvaged, nail. Scrawled on it in rough Anglish was the covenant.

 

It read that all short weapons and side-arms were to be centrally pooled in the town armoury. Galt himself, although no master of arms, knew to be wrong and argued bitterly argued with the Magistrates. All attempts to speak directly with Ferdez were prevented. Few saw much of him after a mystery illness left him weak and near-bedridden.

 

By force of will and his arguing Galt won a compromise to have a handful of designated folk as ‘trusted-armsmen’ but the rest had to comply. Some of the wily ones did not and craftily kept any future arms-carrying either out of sight or within their shed-houses. They had to be careful though, as a Magistrate would present a ‘door paper’, ‘allowing’ entry into their dwelling to ‘second check’ for anything that might have been ‘missed’.

 

Two months after that another covenant was nailed to Galt’s door.

This time they wanted any extra food-supply’s, tools or ‘useful items’ depositing in the central warehouse. A warehouse ran and organised by The Magistrates. All of whom tended to be armed, some gallingly with side-arms meant for the central armoury. The Magistrates themselves did not look like thugs or tyrants for the most part, at least not by their appearance. Fellow Europeans for the most part it was that which drove them from within that was dangerous. For it seemed that the notion of self-determination, responsibility along with rugged individualism rattled and worried the Magistrates.

 

Even the various tales told of Galt and his folk promoted undue criticism. Free-talk was outlawed, or at least disapproved of here in Gelstown. Galt was to remark during one exchange between a Magistrate and some of his folk.

 

“Are you even ready for freedom the way you cower within these rules and walls Mag-man?” He snapped back, for the Magistrate was attempting a justification for their lusting covenants. He would not back down and this caused the Magistrate to stomp away, knowing the argument was lost.

 

There was no changing them, whether they’d inherently become anti-freedom through poor upbringing, deranged teachings and association he’d no cause to identify.

Only that they posed a serious oppression and threat to those who’d joined him long ago vexed him.

For a dormant seed within Galt and many of his people had taken root since they’d been separated from their mountain hold. While a handful had gotten comfortable in Gelstown, most now yearned for their mountain freedom.

Homes and workshops, stores and safety awaited them there.

A handful of his advanced scouts had gone ahead of Galt before ‘The Fall’.

Hopefully they’d of set up the Gulch and at least guarded the way in by now.

It would be winter soon and the way into The Gulch impassable once the snow fell heavy.

 

This place of concrete and unyielding regulations was grinding them into slow servitude.

Once free to come and go as they pleased, entry-restrictions were imposed at the town gates.

Gelstown was now becoming like a prison.

Safe from harm outside, as long as they acted the slave inside.

 

They willingly performed the duties required of them to allow Gelstown to function, but the loss of their freedoms, like the death of a thousand cuts, was intolerable. Especially to Galt, who’d often bitterly regretted deciding Gelstown was a safer bet than trailblazing to the Gulch on foot.

Secretly, Galt would visit them in the night and soon they’d manage to plot a way out of Gelstown and the way to the Gulch was opened once more.

A few weeks passed and yet another ‘covenant’ was nailed to the door. This time all long-guns were to be handed in, leaving them completely unarmed.

With a seven-day deadline looming any chance at making a breakout was critical now.

 

Without rifles for protection they’d be sitting ducks on the northward road. It was nearly twenty miles of flatland before the Rocky Hills started. Then fifty or more beyond to the outlying village of Tonswater. Then twelve more beyond that to the safety of the Gulch.

No vehicles would get them there for any that were left in operable condition were jealously guarded. Also the scouting force he’d sent north months before were under orders to block the Gulch entrance with several fallen trees, making it passable only on foot.

 

During the night Galt laid out his plans. Young-May, the most alluring and unmarried of them did the distracting of the gate guard.

Once he was knocked out the way out was clear.

Then they were away, a bold one of their number managed to retrieve some small-arms from the town armoury before he too ran pell-mell into the night.

By the morning’s light the tyrannical magistrates found Galt and nearly all his people had gone.

With no bloodshed aside from a dazed guard they did not feel compelled to chase after them.

Besides which, the magistrates and their people were not the fighters like Galt’s folk were and they secretly knew it.

 

“Let them be gone then, it’s much safer here, they’ll come back begging to be allowed back in.” Proclaimed the Master Magistrate to the assembled townsfolk.

 

But Galt’s people marched on and soon they neared the Mountain Hold.

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Chapter 2



Galt’s Road



The Journey north was a trek and in the midst of all that foot slogging was a peculiar silence for the most part.

Mike Galt was once a soldier; though his old bones had already passed fifty he still had ‘the old fire’ as he called his tireless spirit pushing him on.
Outside of his closest companions, his followers stuck to him like a lodestone, as long as he was well, so were they.

They walked in a column, Galt at the head, with the most experienced weapons-men and fighters in small groups loosely spread out ahead and to the flanks. As the terrain became more arduous and rugged Galt drew them in, for the progress in such a fashion would slow them down too much as the elevation increased.
When their food supplies turned scarce farm-buildings became a source of supply.
The abandoned one’s were scavenged, those with occupants cautiously bartered with.
Two farm compounds fired at Galt’s scouts in warning. No trading was done there and Galt’s Folk marched on.

Most of his followers knew the basics of fending for themselves in the wilderness. For the one’s that could not, they would either learn the hard-way or be swept aside by the experience.
Already over a dozen refused to continue and parted ways. A couple managed to find a farm to take them in. The rest disappeared behind them.
That was before they’d even left sight of their abandoned vehicles so long ago.
The worst ‘departure’ was the pact-suicide of a family which occurred many miles from Gelstown. Poison pills were their choice, but a handgun from the father finished the job, the noise shattering the midnight hour. Then soon their fate was realised by the rest of them
Hard of heart Galt was upset. Yet he knew them to be too delicate for the ardours of the trail, but Gelstown would have been the slow-death to the quicker one of suicide he grimly decided. At least they died under a clear sky, still strangely lit up by the galaxy burst which had almost faded now.

For the suicide incident was not altogether a surprise to many. A few grimtooths blamed the galaxy-burst, while more reasoned minds went with the family’s inability to adjust to this brave new world.
Mike Galt, for the most part was more willing than most to give the ‘sheeple’ a chance to adjust though.
He’d done what most survivalists had never done, he’d welcomed more than a few of the ‘unprepared’ during the times before ‘The Fall’. It was a decision which occasionally still vexed his peers, who grumbled from time to time about it. Mike’s was the land owner of all the Valley Gulch they slowly neared. So they could not grumble too loudly.

It was he who had, with brilliant foresight, bought and prepared the land decades before any actual decline or collapse to the USA. People had called him an eccentric, an oddball and crazy while they wallowed in the crazed, exciting decadence consuming the nation. A bunch of hypocrites the lot of them shouted Galt, during one night of discussion on the past times. Yet then there were the one’s who helped hold his followers together through thick and thin. Survivalists, preppers and killer’s-in-waiting. Galt was no marksman, he could hit a man-sized target well-enough at close range. The band of brothers saw to it few threats ever made it that close though. During the prison-time of Gelstown they made up most of the trusted-armsman who kept the magistrates from intruding too much into their lives as townsfolk.

William ‘Will’ Danley, the short and tough Colorado ranch-hand who’d seen the writing on the wall like Galt had. His everyman approach and general charisma ensured a good cohesive way permuted through them.He’d contributed richly to the Gulch before the fall and his skill did not stop at being wealthy either.

Elias ‘Bullets’ McKaiser. Weaponsmaster, mechanic and all-round fix-it man. His rigid, Germanic ways often rankled Galt’s more shamanistic, libertarian basis. Yet they tolerated each other. Sometimes they could have entertaining exchanges which developed into a clash of ideas.

Alexander ‘Rock’ Barber. The enigmatic ‘Range-Warrior’ scout. He was, after ‘Bullets’, the second-best shot of them. Barber was more of a brooding one though and a lone wolf at heart.
He often led the scouting and patrol contingent and was a natural warrior, Galt was glad to have him on their side. From the mountains of Nevada and with jet black-hair he showed a somewhat Celtic ancestry. His right eye showing the brightest of blue while the other being that of a peculiar green.

Jonas ‘Flash’ Drennan, a tigerish young drifter built like a tar-barrel, plainly spoken and a fair friend to all. He didn’t look rugged though, too fair of face and sophisticated in Galt’s mind. A runaway from a wealthy family somewhere Galt had surmised. He was the youngest of his inner-circle though an inner-circle in the loosest way, for Galt held no love of cliques or elitism beyond keeping his dream of surviving ‘The Fall’ alive.

Galt had handpicked them and several others to join him many moons before ‘The Fall’ took place. They knew him better than most amid the Folk he'd gathered. Indeed several more were in the Vanguard who awaited them at the Mountain Hold. If they could reach their lofty heights.

Sometimes, when trouble was brewing or a decision was to be made. Galt often called them to his side to discuss a possible direction or approach.
A band of brothers, but outsiders would think of them as his bodyguard or ‘range-warriors’ as he called them.
They brought with them family and friends. Along with ‘The Welcomed,' those who Galt had selected to join them whilst they trekked north.

As the bone-weary mile markers showed them half-way to Tonswater any drifting thoughts they had of their once powerful nation soon became swallowed up in the need to keep going.
What filtered through most was the chaos enveloping the land was now settling into an equilibrium of sorts. The independent states of the nation were now shifting, changing into territory’s.
Some were ruled by what was left of the standing army.
Other areas became protected by fiercely independent militia’s.
These tended to be in the wilderness areas, away from the crazy city-folks. Sometimes Galt felt that his Mountain Gulch was a militia base of sorts, although it was more orientated towards surviving with self-sufficiency.
Most militia outfits he’d learned of survived by providing protection for towns, villages and farms. Apart from the few cabin-folk nearby, his Gulch would protect itself first and foremost. Tonswater was nearby, but twelve miles was too far for adequate protection unless he detached a small party as a garrison force.

To the far west and east city-states seemed to be forming. Some were more feral and lawless than others.

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The time’s they were coming into were strange. At the time of The Fall had been a happening known as The Flash or The Starburst. At the time of the The Fall there came sign’s in the heavens that had been apparent to the wise folks. On the day of The Fall it was heralded by a burst of light from afar which lasted for three days. During the night it illuminated with the lunar and by day it complimented the solar.

Combining to create and cause effects within and without in roughly a quarter of Terra's population.

 

Some of the dark types could not take the change which ended their own miserable lives. The stronger one's of their number now were seemingly enhanced into further malevolence and now viewed much of their land and peoples with increased loathing.

As if to counter this polarisation of the minds those like the Galt and some of his people were now galvanised with their own inner-fire. Their dynamic almost having a cascade effect on those around them.

 

A sign or burst of light from afar, some said the center of the galaxy , radiated brightly at nightfall. The size of a small sun and the colour of whitish-blue it did not herald any paradigm to heaven the holy-minded were looking for. Yet whatever the inner-fire it aroused, it came with a curse; paralysing vulnerable and exposed technologies. Even after it's departure back into the earth things were never the same again.

 

On the road north Galt's convoy had experienced the mixed blessings of The Fall, where their fragile vehicular technology ground to halt all those months ago. At the time the blue sun in the sky that appeared was hated, yet in time they learned it was perhaps something of a necessary doing. It did seem to signal the end of an age though and one that Galt welcomed, for it was something he’d known would come, in one way or another.

 

In the months between The Fall, the sojorn at Gelstown and the trek northwards much news had slowly filtering across what was left of the technologies. Strange, violent beasts were reported to be ravaging areas far to the east, near to the Great Lakes. They were altogether different from the one’s nature produced. Galt was no animal hater, but he vowed to keep such things off his Gulch, for they slew both human and animal the terrified newspeakers claimed.

 

Rumours and theory’s ranged from some unknown force unleashing apocalyptic forces, others it was something akin to a subtle bioweapon by a hostile power.

City-folks in the congested coastal zones had progressively turned rabid, like an overflowing dish of bacteria that consumed itself once it reached it’s limits. They turned on each other like dogs, some even said to be consuming flesh such was the lack of sustenance after mere days of the collapse. Or maybe they ate each other anyway.

Galt had heard most had become practically no-go areas ruled by savage warlords who’d stripped their own city’s bare then, like sucking parasites, sent out raiding army’s to fuel their base needs.

Mike’s Gulch was near no such place, but there were smaller version’s of the city-state marauders who could be just as deadly. He’d heard from one of the magistrates that a town far to the east had made a living on ‘time-bonding’ or indenturing folk unfortunate enough to be captured by them.

Another to the west had gone the other way of simply plundering all from the countryside and selling on the booty to nearby towns and villages allied to them.

He cared little of what took place outside his own landmass. What became of Europa’s factional nations concerned though, as the birthplace of most of his bloodline it irked him that the mistakes they made were later repeated by his own elected rulers.

Not that they had any say in what became of the former United States.

The name meant little to him now. Much like that Europan Empire meant after it’s own collapse into factions.

 

Escaping from Gelstown and their maddening covenants seemed to mean going into a different ordeal entirely.

He smiled at this though, for at least there they’d be masters of their own destiny, forging a fate beyond that imposed upon them in places like Gelstown.

 

He chuckled to himself. All these thoughts and ideas and he’d yet to make it to his Gulch.

Over every hill seemed to be another stretch of road into the distance. Beyond that stretch of road seemed to be another line of hills.

He knew they were edging closer to Tonswater, most of them had blistered feet now. But Danley’s trefining method of draining the liquid sore’s provided a painful, but effective remedy.

 

Finally, after five days on the road the sign for Tonswater appeared ahead of them. Riddled with over a dozen bullet holes it seemed to indicate raider signs.

Yet as the tiny-town appeared over the last rise in the ground most of the houses seemed to be intact.

He was not the first to see the town, he’d sent his scout’s, ahead and on the flanks always to check out the place. Of the three he’d sent forward, one returned…

 

“There’s a toll booth set-up at the bridge, just before the town entrance.” The scout said. It was Drennan. Unhurt, still armed but a bit exasperated. “They want a fee before we can pass. I told them who you were Mike!” He said throwing his arms up briefly. ‘Flash’ spoke more frustrated that anything though.

 

“All right then, let’s go speak to them about getting through.” Galt said grimly.

He knew what to do and led his people to the toll booth. The checkpoint became noticeable once they neared the River Tonswater and the bridge is spanned.

It was a simple barrier affair with a counter-tilt to raise it up. Beyond it about a hundred yards away was another gateway ringed by a low-wall that was nearing completion.

About three other guards gathered on the town side of the gate, while his other two scouts waited for him on the wilderness side.

 

“They won’t let us through Galt, in spite of all what we’ve been through they want a toll.” One of the brazen younger scouts said. ‘Flash’ gestured for quiet, as it was time for Galt to speak.

 

“What’s the toll to pass through here?” Galt said flatly. The guard he addressed carried a Carbineer with rusted iron sights. The rest had longish sporter rifles.

 

“Three bullets or a bag of food from each passerby.” The guard said.

Galt nodded and pulled out from his own pack a small bundle of dried jerky. He passed it to the guard.

 

“This isn’t enough for all of you.” The guard sneered. Heavy set and with an ugly way about him. One of the scouts, off to one side was going to say something but Galt raised his hand, almost with a strange kind of presience. Then he spoke, gesturing to the area of the town before them.

 

“I'm Galt of the Mountain up to the west about twelve miles away. I’ve spent twenty years coming through this town, spending coin whenever I needed stuff, which was oftentimes. ‘Specially at old Randy’s store.” Galt now spoke with iron in his voice. Any dismay the scouts had of Galt complying with the extortion demands soon faded.

The guard shrugged, uncaring and indifferent. Galt hadn’t seen him before, he was likely to be a paid guard from elsewhere, as opposed to a local inhabitant.

 

“Now if this here bag ‘o jerky can’t do for me and my folks then we’ve got a tangle boy, ‘cause we’ve no more food to give but the dust in our packs an’ we'll need our bullets where we’re headed.” Galt said letting his hand fall to his trusty revolver. Ten magnum rounds loaded into the cylinder plus another ten in a spare speed-reloader. On his shoulder slung his faithful 30.06 rifle which he adjusted somewhat. As he did so, he gave the bolt a quirky little ‘three tap’ with the blade of his hand.

 

The guard noticed this vague ritual and a barbed insult nearly passed from his lips, but he held his tongue, knowing it would be wiser not needle the strange old man who stared with hazel-green eyes.

Galt gave a subtle smirk.

It would be the revolver to see him through any trouble from the Tonswater guards but the tap ritual still held it’s place.

A silence from the toll-folk and Galt nearly broke it with a word to back away to stand-off range.

The guard blinked first though and turned to a short little townsman.

 

“Go get Randy.” He gestured to him. The short one scurried away to the main trading post and Galt smiled at the new development. Randy was known to him as prior to The Fall, Galt had often bought grocery's and fuel from him.

About four minutes later a man came to the Toll Booth from through the gateway of the town. Galt recognised him as the man who ran the general store and gas-station.

Slightly shorter than Galt but broad, like a football player Randy saw who it was and nodded.

 

“Alright Stu' raise the barrier, I know this man from before The Change.” Randy spoke to the guard loudly.

 

Galt's eye's flashed over to Stu' to see what his move would be.

Randy held weight in the town of Tonswater and the once-abrasive sentry reluctantly raised the bar.

 

“Just him Randy?" Stu' said, still keen to have his way.

Randy hesitated for a moment, seeing the two score number behind.

Galt, seeing the decision in Randy spinning now spoke hard to the man.

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“We've just slogged from the back-of-beyond Randy, with nothing to give but what'll keep us alive on my mountain! If they can't pass, I won't pass.”

The raised voices had by now gotten the attention of the lawman of the town. Galt was looking at the river and how it flowed, they'd have to find a crossing point, or risk violence from the townsfolk his guiding spirit suggested.

Sheriff Connarsby stepped out from the spartan police building, put on his hat and went over to the crowd.

 

“What's going on here, who are these people?” He said curiously.

Stu' and Randy filled him in as Galt waited for the final say, explaining he was taking his folk up to the mountain.

 

“I can barter with Tonswater in weeks to come with trade and suchlike. Yet right now I've got folks up there waiting on me and I'm keen to see what's what.”

Connarsby was a mostly fair man and knew an honest man when he saw one.

“I'll agree with that. They can pass. No toll fee for them.” He shouted so all could here.

 

Galt gave a gesture and his folk marched on into the town. As they passed the rugged lawman Galt looked him in the eye.

 

“Thanks for that, I was about to consider going around by that river over yonder.” The folk leader nodded to Connarsby.

 

“I figured you might.” The sheriff laughed briefly.

The spoke curtly to one another at first. Raider activity was low, some would be attackers turned back from the northern road a month ago. Galt told them it was quiet also to the south where they'd come from.

He kept the details of Gelstown from his short tale though. There was no reason to tell Connarsby, besides which he didn't entirely trust the law at the best of times. Perhaps another time he'd let him know.

Connorsby spoke on briefly

 

“We've been hearing allsorts on the Shortwave and Longwave since The Fall. Seem's that there's been a big change with things in Europe, a bit like here, but they're forming into Factions, kinda like the militia-folks have done here and there. We've got a few of them in the town, helping train the townsfolk. They ain't the best but better than nothing.”

Galt nodded.

 

“If I can get things done up at the mountain I might be able to send you some of my Folk down if they can't handle the winter. It shouldn't come to that though.” Galt suggested amicably.

 

“In seriousness though Galt we hope to see this bartering done later. Times are tight, I have a handful of trappers and hunters out yonder, gathering food and furs but that's barely enough.”

 

Galt's heart shuddered at the thought of the game animals on the mountain being thinned, especially in the autumn months. He didn't say anything to Connarsby but the little toll stunt he'd just endured might just make it's way to the Gulch. For now though, that was a thing for another day.

He was tempted to call a halt to rest, but a strange zeal ran through them all, giving extra energy to tired and weary body's.

 

Perhaps, Galt wondered, it was from the Mountain Hold itself, her strange energy pulling them home at last.

Most, aside from himself and The Trusted had not even been to The Gulch before.

Could they take it he wondered? In the summer it was a fine place but winter could test a mans nerve's and temperament to breaking point. Especially if he was, as Galt liked to label someone weak, a 'cissyman'.

They'd all soon find out who was and was not ready to walk the mountain ways for ahead, in the distance the Rocky Mountain's Great Divide Pass loomed as behind them Tonswater disappeared behind a hill.

The mountain highway was deserted and if he set a brisk pace they'd get to the place before nightfall.

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Chapter 3

 

Vanguard

 

Nightfall at the Gulch came quickly and with it a creeping cold. Scout-Ranger Adwin Leyson gripped his .303 Enfield that little bit harder as a biting wind whirled past. He was a high-plains man, somewhat unused to such a mountain climate. Yet he had a great adapting quality to him, with an even pair of cold-eye's that radiated intensity. He was not that broad, yet fairly tall at five foot ten and a natural scout-sentry. Mousy-hair streaked down along a rugged, lantern jawline now framed with thick beard.

 

It was both awesome and testing living atop the Gulch but Leyson and the others had come well equipped and prepared to The Gulch. As The Vanguard they had to be.

They had waited for Galt and his folk to arrive now for ages, now winter neared and still there was no sign. Radio transmissions and reception were mostly blocked, as though a strange blanket of white sound had descended upon Terra. Here and there some snippets of information could be snatched from the ether. It was enough to indicate, as Galt had predicted, one age had ended and another one had dawned.

 

The Vanguard of the few had arrived just prior to The Fall or Changing as it was better known, descending. They'd traveled in a trio of vehicles into the mountains and all three were loaded to the gills, food being the primary bulk of their supplies.

Sent out by Galt who, in his weird precognitive way, had sent them on ahead to the Gulch while he completed his work down below.

 

Three pick-up trucks weren't much to get Mike Galt's legacy started on the mountain but it was better than nothing. After crossing the shallow river they'd driven up the wooded hillock and begun the transformation of mountain wilderness into Mike's vision of a Mountain Hold. It was just as the last of the spring snow was thawing, that the newcomers arrived to what would be their new home.

 

Here and there in the shady areas were patches of it still lingered. Great stretches and swathes of mountain valleys rose and fell in all directions. Tree's making up much of the sight with vast chunks of green. One thing was for certain, they'd never run out of wood here for it was an unending resource.

 

Spruce, fir and pine tended to be the three main types. Although of the three it was the pine that tended to be more sparse with beetle-kill taking it's toll on them.

Apart from he and Konrad the other four scouts had never been to the Gulch before, nor had they been this high in the world.

The elevation of The Gulch was at the cusp of human capacity for long-term living.

Any higher than it was and most men would struggle to cope with the lack of oxygen content.

As it was nine-thousand feet was pushing it.

 

Leyson being one of the few Survivalists had heard of other Gulch's being considered in the run-up to The Fall, but these tended to be no greater than seven to eight thousand feet and were further to the north-west.

 

The other one's with him were good folk. A vanguard of scouts who'd volunteered to go on ahead to prepare the Gulch for the time's of change. Scout-Ranger's were those who had made efforts to help on the Gulch in earlier times. Leyson already being of the Gulch was already a Scout-Ranger, for he'd a better understanding of the place as had Konrad. The others were Scoutmen, a shade lower in the pecking order, yet by no means subordinate.

Freedom was an important concept on the Gulch, with hierarchy strictly relegated to survival critical decisions.

 

Ranger Leyson was not perturbed by their new-world though, he was from a people who'd endured and prospered over the century's and millennia. Saxon, Norse and even Celt flowed through him, although he certainly felt American, it was an Occidental Way that burned in his soul.

Up on the mountain there was less noise and distraction from the urban-roar of below.

His mind and thoughts were at a well-tuned clarity. He didn't know if the other scout's felt any such vibe's as he, but none had complained greatly at the challenges so far.

 

Konrad was the other Scout-Ranger of the Vanguard, a wily Slavic-Russian man who was with a roguish fire to Leyson's mature elan. One complimented the other, in fact all of them did. The Scoutmen all gelled with the other and knew that the rest of their friends would soon be coming.

For far below and hundreds of miles away Mike Galt gathered his folk-brothers and sisters. Most of the core survivalists and preppers were with him. Scout-Rangers, Toolmen, Crafters and Growers. For now they'd have to get what they could working in time for their arrival.

 

Food, water and shelter were already in ample supply here. were scattered around, made possible thanks to prior work before The Fall.

A pair of completed cabin's protruded up out of the ground, these being constructed over the past two years by Galt and one of the other Trusted Folk (they'd remained behind with Galt while he gathered his folk).

 

The cabins themselves were somewhat crude by urban peoples standard's, but they did the job with both having wood stoves and stores.

They also were partially under-ground, being built into the mountain-side.

Several supply sheds held a bounty of equipment and other materials needed for working the land.

The crowning, submerged jewel of the Gulch was a covert mountain bunker.

 

To call it a bunker was something of a misnomer though, for it connected the nearest cabin, Galt's cabin at that, via a tunnel network and had more than one entrance.

It had defensive quality's as well as being livable for a gun port commanded views of the approach road and two bunks were set up in the 'core' section of the bunker. Into these went two of the scouts while Leyson and the others took to the cabins.

A shower tent was set up for keeping a reasonable state of cleanliness, along with a smoke shack for the game they'd be preserving for the winter times. They'd improve on this and many other things in the Gulch, but for now just getting it underway was enough.

 

***

 

Another blast of freezing wind now caused Leyson to shiver from his watch-point he looked hard to the tree barricade they'd cut down all those months before.

Nothing moved aside from the tree's and greenery. He knew them well enough now, for they'd been living at the Mountain Hold for nearly five months and now the snow was setting in.

His mind wandered back and away on the memory train again.

 

The first week had been hard. Adjusting to the area, especially to the terrain was a test.

Unloading the supplies, getting tents set up and generally fitting into the place shook them somewhat, even though he and Konrad had visited the Gulch a few seasons previously, they'd only stayed for a week, hardly knowing what was about them.

 

Access to the Gulch was via a shallow stream, although with a lot of snowmelt it could become a small fjord. Beyond which was a pair of gates, side-by-side. One gateway led up the Gulch's steep slope to storage sheds, while the other ran directly into the heart of the mountain land.

A stout fence projected from the gateways, both of which were made from cut trees and sheet metal.

 

A complete section of the latter went several feet along the river.

The sections made were made up of a series of 'A' frame of logs with a duo of

horizontal log sections running between each 'A' frame. The structure was strongly built, with sheets of dark green aluminum metal nailed into the horizontal pieces. Not only did they blend in but ensured there was no gap for a creature or intruder to slip through.

It was incomplete, making security a concern to all but the blindest of optimists.

 

Each night before bed Leyson make sure to tune into the nearest radio station for weather updates, the sounds of folksy music. As long as he heard such things, western civilization was still juddering along.

Konrad's method was much simpler, he'd glance up into the sky during the daytime to check that commercial airliner's still passed overhead.

 

Leyson focused on the fence-construction with one of the two scouts. The other spare scout of his he sent to actually scout out the area. The Gulch territory was of course Mike Galt's but outside of it were at least ten summer cabin's which were scattered about beyond.

Indeed one of which was only a quarter of a mile away.

 

Galt had instructed them to be raided in the event of them having no occupants along with a country-collapse. Most of these were barely occupied during the week, only at the weekends did people show up to stay a day or two.

Apart from The Gulch only a few had regular summer occupancy.

 

Slowly, as the days moved on the fence line grew and grew until it reached to the border points of the Gulch, where one of the river springs rushed.

Meanwhile Konrad and his pair made work building a dormitory cabin from an existing camp-trailer. Most of the materials they needed were already on the Gulch. A partially collapsed trailer cabin made a great thing to repair and build around.

Pages and pages of notes, guides and ideas were referred to from time to time.

While Galt's plan's were not exact on the construction of living space the general gist of it Konrad and Leyson took on aptly.

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Dead tree's of pine were cut down and prepared while ground was leveled off. The former being necessary, not just for the dorm cabin that needed building, but also to block off the private road entrance way to the Gulch.

The latter being a reluctant duty. Galt had been specific on this, even though it meant blocking any one coming in and coming out from the Gulch. There was another way to enter, but it was a treacherous route that even a quad bike would struggle with.

 

Nuge, an amiable if somewhat feral Scoutman, returned from exploring the area with a report on the other cabin peoples.

The detailed report impressed Leyson. Nuge had been brazen yet also clandestine in his ways, he'd carefully recon areas, should a cabin be occupied, he'd introduce himself gain their confidence. Having done this he'd build up enough rapport to learn all he could of them, their supplies, their ideology and where their sympathy's lay. His 'cover-story' being the out-of-state fellow camping in the area which satisfied any curiosity to his situation. After a few days of this he'd wander back to Leyson and give him updates, map markings and the like.

 

“I palavered with three cabin folks, one was a liberal so no friend to our cause, got good supplies though...” Nuge went on about another indeterminable cabin-fellow.

 

Nuge then went back into the wilderness depths for more intel-gathering, he didn't travel with much artillery, Leyson noted, just a pocket handgun, while most of them on the Gulch preferred shoulder rifles or shotguns. The Gulch held plenty more too if they needed them. What they had to hand as they worked about here and there was enough to theoretically fight their way back to the bunker and then re-arm and reload.

 

The third week arrived and a relentless drive from Leyson saw them nearly finish the fence line. They'd start at shivering first light, and push on until the fade of evening.

As the last post was being nailed into place a silver pick-up truck rumbled into view.

 

It stopped outside the Gulch, just at the verge of the stream barrier before the open gates. Their own vehicles would be visible so it was clear people were on Mike's land.

All of them stopped what they were doing and went low.

Leyson looked over a bush to where it was, just under two hundred yards distant.

It was just possible to discern occupants being a part-tint windshield.

No sentry's had been posted, for things were still 'normal', but Leyson knew that nosey neighbors, if that's what they were, could be trouble.

 

It wasn't Galt, for was still gathering his folk in the lowlands and would have called ahead prior to a convoy of vehicles arriving in his wake.

Additionally and apart from himself, Konrad and maybe Nuge, all of the other Gulch folk were unknowns to the cabin-dwellers.

 

Leyson looked down from the Gulch onto the private dirt-road.

Tyler, a fellow scoutman working with him, started to raise an Arma-Rifle but Leyson swatted it down gently.

 

“Easy here now, the world hasn't crashed just yet.” He said quietly but firmly.

 

Konrad had already took it upon himself to go down alone and unarmed to speak to the visitor.

Meanwhile Leyson unslung his rifle and laid it down on the ground next to where he kneeled.

Tyler was one of the newer scouts and moved up to him, keeping low.

 

“You think we could be in trouble?” Said Tyler strangely, he was young and still used to the city ways in some respects. A good-enough scout, although somewhat nervous and skittish.

 

“Trouble? What for? We've got Mike's permission to be here, it's not like we're planning the apocalypse, only preparing for it.” He countered.

 

“I know but with the arrests and that shootout in Montana...” Tyler chirped, his east-coast ways sneaking out.

 

“Don't be a goose Tyler. I can tell their mind games are getting to you. This is the Gulch, Mike's Gulch and if they are Fed's they'd not be softly rolling up to say howdy-doody.” Leyson said.

 

Tyler often logged and made notes of anything serious of what was going on in the world via the radio-link. It was obviously getting to Tyler somewhat. Konrad was still talking now, but Leyson could tell that from his relaxed demeanor that he was in full charm mode.

 

“One of them's a woman.” Leyson smiled briefly, his edge smoothing over a touch.

Tyler's hazel eyes took out an ocular lense and glassed the pickup.

 

That was one of Tyler's good traits, he always kept his gear on him, even when on fatigue work like the fenceway.

Leyson on the other hand had gotten a bit lax and had taken to leaving his nearby in the upper cabin.

 

“She's nice.” Tyler gleamed, perking up instantly from his neurotic moment. “Blonde, in her early thirties maybe. Has a family with her in the back, two boys and a girl.” He lowered the lense and passed them to Leyson.

Indeed the driver speaking to Konrade was fine, easy on the eye and a firm but pleasant manner.

 

“I think she's one of us.” Leyson said slowly lowering the lenses and nodding.

A 'zoning' presence seemed to drown out the background noise as he relaxed and focused on the unfolding scene of Konrad stood there, leaning into the window slightly.

 

The distant sight of them corresponding to the memory of his zoomed in memory.

 

“A full-time survivalist!?” Tyler said amazed at the suggestion. “I reckon maybe a prepper but...?”

 

“Konrad's charming her and she him.” Leyson said, barely hearing Tyler's words. “Most hitched-women don't respond to that in the wilderness. She's not got a man and she'll be open to our way and the Gulch.” Leyson said, his mind and psyche almost speaking through him.

 

Tyler said nothing. It was loosely rumored that Leyson had a kind of intuition bordering on the esoteric.

 

Galt was said to have 'The Touch' on matters of the big picture, future foresight and vision.

Leyson though was more of a focused observer, able to see between the vision, between the pictures.

 

“The kids are grown up nearly, but no father is around. He's gone now I think, killed fighting the desert 'Rabian's.” The zone-noise was at a peak now as it flooded his mind with sprinkled gnosis.

Tyler heard some footsteps from behind, it was Honas one of Konrad's scoutmen.

The rookie turned and pressed his finger to his lips and making a sign that Leyson was 'in a zone'. Honas looked puzzled at first, at least until Leyson spoke on.

 

“Yes, fathers not here anymore but that's ok, because now he can be a father to them.” Leyson said as a buzz of emotion surged from his mid-torso up to his crown.

 

At the Gulch stream barrier Konrad now finished talking with the driver and the pick-up took off past the Gulch where it followed the right-hand bend, then it disappeared into the dust.

The other Scout-Ranger was pleased.

 

“What a woman!” Konrad said, a-fire with energy. “She's totally cool with what we're doing here, nothing like those other's Nuge spoke with.” He couldn't stand still and went on about the blonde. “If I had known she had a cabin up here before...”

 

“What did you find out about her?” Leyson spoke with a smile.

 

“Her name's Morriene from Nevada. She's in that cabin on the next hill Nuge couldn't get into. I said it'd ok for her kids to come down and give us a hand. No harm in that right Leyson?”

 

“No harm at all man” Leyson smiled in response. “How long's she up here for.” He now quizzed.

 

“About ten days or so. Then she's goin' back west.”

 

Tyler now spoke. “Does she have a man?” He glancing over to Leyson after he'd said this.

 

“I didn't ask, but I saw no rings on her fingers. Used to live on an army base she told me, cool with hunting and shooting. I've got an invitation to the Cabin tonight, too bad you guys weren't with me eh?” Konrad chuckled with glee. He was like the cat who'd got the cream.

 

“Yeah maybe, but we'd probably crowd your style anyway if we all showed up.” Leyson said. They palavered a bit more about things then it was back to work. Konrad skipped over to the partial cabin and got stuck back into it.

 

“The start of the love story for him I think.” Leyson said with a chuckle. He went over to the fence again, checking the rigidity of the logs. Tyler joined him.

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“You really believe in what you just said by watching her? He asked the Scout-Captain.

 

“That's what I gathered, not saying I swear by it, just saying it as it comes.”

 

“It's profiling right? Like what the feds and homeland security do.” Tyler was a skeptic, always searching for scientific answers.

 

“Yeah, something like that Tyler, something like that.” Leyson grinned shaking his head.

 

 

*

 

The romance blossomed between Konrad and Morriene, one that seemed to strengthen the Gulch and give it purpose. He worked even harder and relentlessly than before.

Her children loved the work they were doing and seemed to give the place a youthful vitality, at the same time Morriene's cabin had some luxury's they were not quick to refuse; a hot water shower and a flush-toilet.

 

They'd grown used to the mountain tiredness that plagued them, not quite completely but well enough.* For to reach equilibrium would take years, but well enough so they were not exhausted as much as previously.

 

The Fence now finished allowed them to concentrate and focus on the completion of the cabin. The roof had just been added and the garden beginning to show signs of growth.

The carrots took many weeks to bear a crop while the radishes sprouted much sooner, although for Leyson they tended to be of an acquired taste.

Deer, grouse and fish were the bulk of their meat diet which complimented the stored food and their caches nicely.

 

On the day before The Fall came good news on the commlink. It was linked into the interweb via cell-phone transmissions.

It was from Mike Galt and he was almost ready to depart the lowlands. He'd gathered folk and there were many dozens of people.

Leyson and the other's had been concerned at the lack of communication but now their morale soared.

For since they'd been up on the Gulch busy preparing little had been heard from their leader.

 

“He's coming now!” Said one.

 

“Finally the man cometh.” Said another.

 

“He departs in the morning and should be here by nightfall.” Confirmed Tyler, checking his transcripts. Galt had not spoken using vocal comms, but instead had sent the message via the transcript function common to the online Nexus.

That night they'd celebrated in cheerful fashion and awaiting the morning of the day Galt and his folk would arrive.

 

That day never came, for 'The Fall' arrived instead. It's coming heralded by a button-sized, bright blue orb blazing energy in all directions.

Leyson saw it first from his look-out position on the Gulch.

It appeared in the northern sky, as bright as the sun, almost like it had risen prior to him noticing it.

 

“What are you bringing us?” Leyson declared at the thing.

 

The others dwellers of the Gulch emerged from their sleeping places and joined him at the observation area. Awed by the beauty of it at first, then later when they learned of its effects more fearful.

 

Communications were almost blocked out as waves of rippling static now filled the airwaves.

Electrical components across the northern hemisphere were nullified, paralysed and rendered useless. For reasons of location and elevation Leyson and his people became affected somewhat as a strange 'knowing' of it became momentary. It was like they vaguely knew why it had come and did what it was supposed to do but couldn't quite explain it fully. A 'knowing' was the best way to describe it.

 

When the solar sun descended the Blue-Sun as it became known on the Gulch remained, lighting the valley in a dull blue fire. When the moons light emerged the mix in lights seemed to set the orb on fire, creating a display of dancing, moving and shimmering crescents on the surface.

As the moon rose further, the orb descended out of sight, its power spent.

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Tyler was able to fine-tune the radio-equipment. This along with the interference reducing at nightfall meant details from the outside world were apparent.

 

“It's chaos out there Leyson. Everything's ground to a halt, satellites are down and anarchy's taken over!” Tyler declared boldly. “The States are breaking up and it's every man for himself.”

“It's a new beginning then.” Leyson said surmising things. “We all expected this is what would happen.”

 

“The world deserved this, given how rotten it is.” Scorned Konrad with more than a few noises in agreement.

 

“What of Mike and the others, have you received word?” Leyson said, concerned for their patron.

 

“He's out of range on the radio-comms. If he's been exposed in that convoy down in Colorado...” Tyler said regrettably not wanting to say what he felt. “Cyberspace is down on all servers, I tested a minicomputer outside and it went dead straight away. At nightfall, even with reduced power from that orb-thing it's still not safe for electronics. There's still interference but not as bad. It'll have affected all the world’s mainframe servers I think.” He said conclusively.

 

Leyson nodded. One thing he'd been diligent about was keeping the Gulch computer systems under a faraday-cage. All their vehicles were affected, except the motorbikes. Those were un-chipped and non-electric kick-start machines.

 

“There's one other thing Leyson, they are saying in the southern hemisphere the same thing is happening, except it's an orange orb in the sky.” Tyler said curiously.

 

Leyson pondered on what that could mean for a few minutes before going back outside.

Nightfall at the Gulch seemed as normal as ever now the Blue-Sun had departed.

On the Gulch they were safe from the doom and despair but now it meant the Gulch had to be sealed.

 

“Konrad, in the morning we elect a caretaker for the Gulch to do what has to be done.” Leyson said looking briefly at the notes Galt had left for him.

Konrad nodded. “I’ll let them know.”

 

The next morning all of the people came to the gathering, including Morriene and her children. She was more worried than the others, but was holding it together. Konrad was a help there Leyson reckoned.

 

Behind them, like a strange presence was the Blue-Sun, it had returned with the morning sun. It seemed to of risen a few hours earlier, for blue-rays had mingled with the fading moonlight and night sky, creating a strange colour-contrast in the sky.

 

“It's time to elect a Caretaker leader and seal off the Gulch.” Leyson said, reading out the notes Galt had left them. “We can't risk the outside world coming up here, so we'll be cutting down trees in both directions to the Gulch’s access road.” Leyson went on detailing how they'd elect a leader. After some banter and palaver the votes were cast and Leyson, by a comfortable margin was made Caretaker.

 

“I makes me feel like an old janitor.” He later jested.

 

Some were not happy about sealing the Gulch off, not least Tyler and Konrad. Leyson agreed to a compromise of waiting until dusk. Then by the light of a Blue-Sun they chopped down three of the biggest trees on both approach areas to the Gulch. Ensuring that both were within line-of-sight of the mountain-sentry point. That way anyone approaching the barricade could be seen from the vantage point.

 

As the night drew on the orb returned to its resting position below the line of sight. Some speculated it was some kind of a strange craft which lurked in the icy polar wilderness. Others that it emerged like an entity of the earth, perhaps sent by forces beyond comprehension to bring about change. Whatever the orb was it repeated the slow pattern of rise and fall for nearly a month.

 

“I think the Blue-Sun is interfacing with Terra's geo-magnetic field somehow, re-aligning it. Just as the wave of it's interference begins to fade after midnight it returns at day-break to resume what it's been doing .” Tyler explained.

 

Just as they were getting used to it, the Blue-Sun set one night with the wanning of the moon to never emerge from the northern lands.

It had been like a third power in the sky, fighting against moon and sun but now it was as if it's work was done.

 

During that month panic and chaos swept across western civilisation, chaos and death were commonplace. Tyler kept detailed logs of the happenings and changes, until by day twenty-five only survivalist frequency's and military communications were the ones still operating listening to. In the city's it seemed as if near-anarchy reigned. Some of which made morbidly entertaining listening for a time. Warlords, gangs and rogue-enforcers now ruled what was left of the cities.

 

The death-toll from all manner of causes was beyond reason, several million in the western world, many more so in the second and third world. That number was bound to rise, despite the eventual departure of the Blue Sun. With its passing though, the inhibiting force that had affected the technology of man now lifted. Although electrical systems were intact, on complicated infrastructures and utilities a month without maintenance lead to systematic breakdown. With few technicians and workers able to fix the issues.

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The cyberspace world returned, albeit in a slow-to-restore fashion and one that was much more restrictive to geographical landmasses.

 

Vehicles that were not too new returned to a semblance of order.

The hydrocarbons they relied on were scarce though, with the remaining sources being jealously guarded.

On the Gulch all three of the vehicles now returned to life, although at Morriene’s cabin only her ATV would start up, not her main pick-up.

 

Overall though Leyson and his folk were survivors and one of the few bands ready to take on the challenges of the New World.

The next few months saw the Gulch continue building, enhancing and attaining a secure means of wintering.

Game was hunted, carefully stored, cabin's known to be abandoned were raided. Notes were left in the unlikely case of the occupants returning to their abode. These explained why and where there supplies were to be found.

In the following months of 'The Fall' no-one showed up to claim their supplies.

 

The sentry's head rested against the tree-trunk, almost asleep from the flow of thought.

Leyson's eyes struggled to focus on the fallen tree's cut to the south of the observation point.

Then a great flash of light seemed to blaze up from them, bright red and almost painful to see.

His military mind took over, closing one eye to try and preserve his night vision.

Chambering a round into the Enfield he raised his night-vision ocular to look closer at the fallen barricade.

The greenish-glow revealed figures, more than faces but Leyson took a moment to realise the flares significance.

 

It was a signal flare. As if to remind him further a series of torch flashes now made themselves known from the fallen obstacle.

 

The Caretaker dropped his rifle and took up his own torch. He signalled back with it. After a few seconds pause another flare erupted from the distant ones. This was not a sky-flare but a hand-flare which lit up the bearer like an otherworldly beacon.

 

Standing there with figures to his side and behind him was Mike Galt. Looking like a mountain prophet who had returned with knowledge to bring and tales to tell. Leyson had almost given up on ever seeing the man again and was on the verge of taking the title of Galt for himself.

Now though Galt had at last returned to his beloved Gulch, with the fiery wand still blazing in his hand he and his folk clambered over the trees' limbs and branches, stepping into their promised land.

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Chapter 4

 

Brave New Horizon

 

Autumn was well lapsed into winter now as the first truly cold winds began to blow through the distant valleys with gathering howls.

In the month that had passed since Galts return the crude shelters had slowly grown into fledgling cabins. Mike Galt had plenty of tools for fashioning wood, along with four chainsaws. By the time they'd chopped enough dead-trees and trimmed it to size the fuel-bunker was half-empty.

 

There was a good mix of people at the Gulch. The ones that Galt had brought with him tended to be hardy enough to the conditions. An unerring instinct had carried him to choose those with the right-stuff to enter his new world.

 

The Growers had seen to setting up a greenhouse cabin, the multitude of glass would be protected in winter against snowpack. Yet for the timebeing it was helping squeeze out vegetables during the short growing season. Food was plentiful for the winter-months though for great fifty-five gallon drums that were sealed and held ample dried foods. Plus the meats that were already preserved from hunting earlier added to their diet. Augmenting the cottage industry which was gaining speed were furs and skins that would be traded with the nearby town of Tonswater.

 

Toolmen and Crafters worked on the workshops and a forge was nearly half-finished. An additional bonus that was present was an abandoned gold mine. It was mostly mined-out but some gold could still be panned in one of the rivers that ran near it. A few of them tried their hand at this and managed to get an ounce of gold within a few weeks and as more weeks passed they became more savvy and skilled at this.

 

Across the nation that once was America a transformation was occuring. No longer united, it now became ruggedly invididualistic in the mid-west and pacific north-west. Those states were now fully independent but linked to one-another. They held true to the principles of a republic though and from what was left of the cities there tentative bonds of alliance were formed. These would become essential for trade and friendship, yet kept out of each others business. Areas like The Mountain Hold were already in a fairly remote area as it was. Through contact with Tonswater they could sluggishly keep up to speed on the developments taking place elsewhere.

 

The fragmented, tatters of the union still lingered in some places far to the east with a degree of greater co-operation but the south-west coast was a loss for the most part. Savage behaviour and aminosity rampaged throughout the cities there. Further north it was slightly better, with brutish warlords and gangs imposing their rule on the surviving populace. Only in the former state of Washington was it any safer on the west coast, with a rudimentary rule of law taking effect.

 

Across the mid-west the way of the homestead farmer and townsman reigned supreme compared to the coastal big cities. Even so half of them suffered losses as the petroleum goods required to work farming machinery ran critically short. Those who were wise enough to stockpile supplies stood a better chance though, as did those would could farm without relying on complex machinery. What was left of the internet now shifted into a new geographically-restricted Nexus internet. For the 'Changing of Times' meant the great sub-sea lines and satellites were gone. For the name 'internet' was mostly forgotten as the more restrictive Nexus took precedent. The Nexus was somewhat slower than before, but it still allowed most of what was on the old-internet to be transferred and move into a new format. Thanks to the brightest of minds, surviving technicians and other wise-folk had just got the framework and basic protocols established to allow the Nexus to function fully. Nevertheless it was a mammoth task and one that would take years to complete fully.

 

Galt and his folk heard from Tonswater that television was now nearly-obsolete. The broadcasting stations that were key to relaying the signals that had once been crucial to indoctrinating minds were mostly silent now. Some said 'The Fall' caused it, others that angry citizens sick of it's degenerate ways now took out their vengence in a bloodlusting frenzy. Most were burnt out and exploded, gutted or simply abandoned, those that remained were relegated to short-range broadcasts of music now mostly ignored.

 

The Blue-Sun had indeed changed America and now a new term was becoming spoken more and more.

First it was The Independent States of America or ISA. Another was the Isolationists or Isols. While this had some popularity it was far from perfect.

Then a new term was used that seemed to encompass the zeitgiest now enveloping the land.

The Independent States and Republic was declared by a majority of the mid-west and pacific north-west states. In its shortened form ISTAR was mostly used instead of the full term.

To Galt and his folk plus many others, the name was little more than an empty figurehead. Fuel was a new form of currency, certain areas of the land had vast reserves untapped and places like Wyoming were not short of hydrocarbons nor were other places elsewhere.

 

The new age of the world now was one of survival, endurance and challenge.

There would be no cavalry or slow-responding police-force to ride to the rescue. What was left of the police force now called themselves enforcers and lingered on in large towns and cities that had survived the fall. They did little more than posture and enforce the laws of the local ruler or warlord though typically. Outside in the wilderness zones a man made his own law and any sporadic presence of the enforcers was tolerated for only so long before it was unwelcome. Once any patrolling enforcer squad departed an outlying area the true law of the land returned in a wholesome fashion according to the natural way of the land.

 

For The Mountain Hold though Galt's Law was uninterrupted and was very simple.

 

Do not murder.

Do not injure.

Do not steal from another.

 

Any who did such a thing would be put on trial by the entire folk community.

In the case of injury or murder the verdicts were either justified, innocent or guilty.

Otherwise it was just innocent or guilty.

 

Sentencing for stealing was exile. Whilst injury, unless it was serious resulted in property transfer. For murderers though the death death penalty was possible.

At the Gulch though there was little to no strife, their numbers were small and they all strived to make their lot in life better. Large towns and cities had such issues, more so after The Fall but not at the Mountain Hold.

 

Including the new arrivals the Mountain Hold's numbers had swelled to just over fifty men, women and children. During the evening-times a fire would be lit for them to gather around. Some were wary at doing this for it was visible from the air, but no airplanes had flown overhead since The Fall and their sentrys kept a vigilant watch at the outreaches. Their rifles ready and their eyes sharp for movement. In earlier times such folk tended to be more relaxed but since 'The Fall' they had seen that while the good folk stayed mostly good, the evil and dark ones seemingly plunged into greater evil and savagery. The latter overwhelming the former in many of the cities, but not so in the wilderness states.

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Galt sometimes secretly watched from the tree's and high vantage points as the Mountain Hold took shape. Each new section of fencing and cabin was like a force of nature expanding from a former self.

“We maketh it in our image.” Leyson heard Galt say in one unguarded moment.

In the early hours of dawn or at the midnight hour Galt would glimpse the unseen worlds of beyond and the orchestral ballet of the out-worlds. Mostly though his spirit would quest for the answers necessary.

 

The world of Terra or Earth as most called it was a crucible. Either one side or the other would survive and reign dominant. Those in the middle would lean one way or another as the ways dictated. Before both seemed to try and make a fusion, this had failed quite miserably. Like two magnets repelling each other the result of the fusion was even greater misery and trouble than if they had remained apart in the first place. The Blue Sun though was like an impartial divine force that allowed the two magnets to end their foolish ways and bring about the sides into their respective factions.

Dark malevolent chaos on the one side. While the forces of light on the other. Two special factions that could never truly co-exist.

 

Galt saw neither as 'evil' but knew that from the dawn of time both were destined to fight it out, for better or worse one would have to become dominant. There could be perhaps a meeting of minds, he was not blind to such things yet in his heart any such Golden Age had to be earned in the fire and forge that was yet to come. During his wanderings he was almost tempted to bring a few of the negative-ways into his folk. Only the good of the whole folk caused him to relent, especially now that the Time of the Wolf was at it's cusp.

Now, before the next age would come the enduring times had to be borne upon good folks like themselves and elsewhere. It could be no other way, it was like some necessary evil in itself for good things to come.

 

A few brief flurries of snow were starting to set in more often now. The coming winter would be a test, but then so would their be a test for all others in Terra, in one form or another. He was glad to be away from cities though, especially the prison-like ways of Gelstown.

 

A set of three flickering fires caught his eye, the folk often gathered at them in the evening, once the work was done it was time to relax before retiring to their cabins. He too needed to relax and perhaps mix with them some more, but for the Galt he was not one to relax easily, not with the enemies and forces of darkness that were now active in the world.

Perhaps once the final watchtower was built overlooking the distant state-highway he would relax some more. For now though the burden of the Mountain Hold rested on him, such a one as Galt could not drop into easy-living or complacency while things in the world were so hostile and in a state of flux.

 

*

 

Several of the Gulch-Dwellers gathered at the fire as they always did in the evening. Another two gathering fires flickered further up the Gulch where the other groups that lived nearest to them rested. The biggest one was not far from the main gateway, now secure with the perimeter fence.

 

“So where did he come from then? This Galt seems so mysterious.” Asked Morriene. She was in a kind of awe of their aloof leader, few could approach him as he was always busy or wishing to be alone in his thoughts.

 

“He told me he comes from east of here, from on the far high-plains.” Said Dragan. “Galt knew that the world was going to collapse in the near-future so he travelled west to this place twenty-something years ago. High mountains have always been a rock and a sanctuary for our people if you find the right ones. Here is one of those places, here he set up the Gulch almost single-handedly. Then he called for us individually and overtime our numbers grew as we helped him along.” Dragan was one to speak plainly for he was a mostly uncomplicated man, but one who was arguably the best fighter on the Gulch. Konrad who sat next to Morriene was considered the other champion along with Barber. They got on fairly amiably though and there was no clashing or rivalry between them.

 

“He gathered so many people up here on his own, that's amazing, especially doing so just before the fall and then managing to get them here after it.” Morriene exclaimed.

 

“That's Galt, he carries a kind of 'force' or 'power' with him, like he knows how to find and get something to happen when it has to happen. It's like he wears the crown of destiny or can at least guide it's force when needed.” Leyson now spoke up. “Now he's succeeded in doing his work of getting the Mountain Hold established he is resting and waiting for the spring to come.”

 

“What then?” The woman asked curiously.

 

“Well we can hopefully complete the Mountain Hold's defences for the next year. As you know the winter snow will isolate us completely then from what's left of the outside world. Vehicles will be paralysed in these mountains, even tracked vehicles would struggle. Those on foot would flounder to an uncertain fate, unless they're prepared with snow-shoes and ski's.” Leyson summarized.

 

“I mean for the long-term, does Mike want us to live here until the end of our days?” Morriene wondered.

 

“No-one is a prisoner here.” Danley now said in an upbeat manner. “We've already discussed this very thing. Anyone wishing to go down to Tonswater and elsewhere is free to do so. But don't expect and easy time of it. Raiders, bandits and every other kind of vermin roam the land now. Once the Gulch is firmly established and trade-links are formed things will be more clear and stable. Expeditions to other places, even towns that are friendly can take place. Lowland Holds where we can raise livestock and farm, areas that are better suited to craft and trade with others are all for the long-term though. Perhaps one day we'll be able to take-over a town from raiders and use it for our own people. Yet that is over-the-horizon talk.” He concluded.

 

“We're sending one last supply-convoy down to Tonswater in the coming days.” Barber now spoke. “We can pick up any extras we might need then we'll be on our own.” The Range-Scout said mentioning the coming weeks activities.

 

“I thought the way in and out of the Gulch was blocked off though?” Morriene said curiously.

 

“It is, but there's a narrow off-road trail that we can use to cut through the forests and reach the state highway.” Barber explained. “Unless someone has detailed knowledge of the area you'd never know there was another way up here. The trail doesn't even show up on archived maps we have of the area. And when it snows deep even that is impassable.”

 

A silence had begun to set in when Galt approached the gathering fire with McKaiser. They sat and discussed the supply-run along with the logistics. Previously a stored bicycle on the Gulch meant one of the scouts was able to make a trial-run to Tonswater the previous week. It was wise to test the atmosphere and mood before showing up en-mass. Tonwater now showed itself to be friendly, there would be no toll-charge for them and the scout brought back a list of desired goods they'd be willing to trade with the Gulch.

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*

 

The next morning the three vehicles headed away early, the morning frost still clung to the ground as thinly spread snow on the trees heralded what was to come in greater quantities. Exiting the Gulch was a slow process but neither of the vehicles ended up stuck though. They made numerous turns and descents down steep dips and twists. After twenty minutes of this the trail formed onto a broader dirt-road. Following this for a few hundred yards saw them reach the state-highway. Then it was a left-turn and they were on their way to Tonswater. Apart from Galt and the driver in the lead vehicle, Leyson drove the second with McKaiser, while in the third Konrad and his wife led the rear.

 

Galt did not drive but was a passenger in the leading vehicle while the silent Scout-Ranger Barber drove him. Mike Galt was on-edge, not for the descent and travel to Tonswater for that was expected. It was much more profound than a mere supply-run as the previous night he'd endured visions and signs. From his 'knowing' spot away from the cabin he'd had them before in slight snippets here and there, but that early morning he saw them in such clarity that he struggled to keep them to himself. Even now his mind went over them like a diligent scholar goes over and interprets papers scrawled by frenzied soothsayers recently returned from the ether.

 

Great signs and doings were afoot on Terra. Powerful beings who influenced the ways of Europa were now changing. The way of subterfuge and insidious methods now being auxiliary to naked-force and aggression. He went over his minds memory his remote-seeing the previous night.

 

First he was almost like a high bird looking down as plains and a sliver of a mountain range. He was far to the east of Europa and around the world from his home of the Mountain Hold. Why was he being shown this grassy steppe of nothing he wondered. The force that carried him now took him lower and towards the tiny mountain range almost swallowed up by the vastness of the Eurasian Plains. He was taken down to bird-height and heard the wind whooshing by, yet felt no chill or buffeting as he move lower. Apart from a few foothills to the west the terrain was depressingly flat compared to the great character of his own Mountain Hold.

 

Then came a a flash from the south face of a mountain. Smoke poured out and he moved in closer, there he saw an emerging army move out like large black grains of rice. Before them the lands of the east and west were clear to the eye.

 

Lower he was taken until he was roughly the height of a tall tree. At this point he was freely hovering under his own power, the force seemingly had left him now and he consciously moved forwards seeing the mass of movement up close. Three figures moved ahead of the several hundred strong force.

 

He saw the biggest one leading them was a giant creature nearly eight feet tall, it resembled an abomination of creature and man. He could look only for a few seconds such was the jutting, beak-like face of the swarthy creature. A dark carapace of body, arms and legs seemed to make up the bulk of it. This was no leader though, no doubt a fighting-beast for slaying and guarding those that flanked it. The second one next to it was the real holder of power, one who commanded such things.

 

It also was a giant, but more human-esque in it's looks. Yet even these appeared an exaggeration, almost a mockery to what normal folk resemble. Ridged brows and thick features with inclined eye sockets, Galt's spirit looked hard at this one. Clothed with robes hiding a powerful frame the swarthy face radiated evil as black-eyes emanated a soulless glare. A plate of black metal seemed to be melded onto one cheek while a chunk of skull above the eyes had a section missing, instead a cage glistened at the pulsating, pumping brain-organ within. The helmet it wore hid any hair, but Galt suspect it was bald. It wore a bulky backpack and carried holstered weaponry, bulkier than his own revolver, somehow he feared it to be of an advanced nature. It hefted a huge standard with great pryamidic shapes and circles upon it. It spoke in a bold, guttural whining way, as alien as it was unsettling. As they now slowly turned and faced their army Galt now only saw the back's of the three leader-types. He drifted closer and closer to see them before their people.

 

The ruler now gave forth a howl no human could do and planted the great metal standard into the lush green earth.

 

As the shrieking echo faded his army before him hailed him without end for a few minutes. Galt juddered away somewhat at all this but soon regained his courage.

 

The central leader of the horde now raised his metallic-arms wide and pointed in both directions to the east and west before giving another weird shriek.

 

The third was a more Europan-looking man who grinned and gleamed with a fair face and lucid brown eyes. Charisma and the mark of a politician were about this one. He now spoke, much in the same tongue as the leader had, yet in a vaguely familiar accent. This speaker had more a beguiling way and led on a passionate exclaim about something. With shifty, slight gestures, hand-shaping and head-tilting the rowdy soldiers now settled down, seemingly transfixed by the man's ways.

 

All were armed with long-guns; bolt-action and auto-loaders of types he was not familiar with. It was as if they'd developed from areas of their own making, lacking the expertise he was accustomed to. The small army all wore an armor that dehumanized the warrior to a brutish form of soldier. Even by Galt's own disdain for state-armies they were a foul-natured lot. The multitude of faces that stared at the

speaker were of infinite racial mixtures and blends, their swarthy-brown and black faces peered out from raised helm-visors. Sneering-ways with a cruel aspect seemed common-place and Galt knew that he would almost relish the thought of bringing them down. Reassuringly they were of average height for the most part, but the rear most ranks seemed to hold a foot taller with an even tougher emphasis. These seemed the elite or veterans of the formation, silent and somber there was a way of contrast from these ones.

 

His mind-memory now extended as he realized he was lapsing into another 'knowing.' Galt was not keen to do such a thing while away from the Gulch, much less while being driven to do business in Tonswater. He made motions within himself to escape from the trance-like projection of himself.

 

The rank-and-file below him snarled at the world they'd emerged into, snapping at the sky and ground loathing the place, or perhaps it was something else, the world perhaps?

 

Galt pulled and pulled with his spirit to soar up and away into his body back but the force that had anchored to him from behind was somehow restricting him. He'd drifted much closer than he dared, now almost over the top of them. Even though he was thirty feet or so above them the foot soldiers. Now he became unsettled and anxious. He suddenly heard a bellow from behind him and then the force which had guided him returned and pushed him forward and deeper into the mountain opening like a rocket.

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*

 

Barber drove over the open cattle-grid gate gateway, his military-mind kept his ever flickering blue eyes this way and that. Looking like a hawk for movement as they rumbled on ahead, a movement off to his right disturbed his train of focus. It was Galt's gnarled hand reaching forward and gripping the plastic of the upper glove-box. He gripped it tight as a claw, barber was about to say something but noticed Mike was staring into space with eye's that were glassy, seeing yet unseeing.

 

It was one of his 'seizures' or 'knowings' as Galt called them. He'd confided in few but his trusted inner-circle this; Barber being one of them. Without his 'knowings' laying out a course the Mountain Hold would be but a distant dream. Leyson was another Barber knew to have a strange kind of insight, but Galt's was the real deal and as long as he had it they all had a fighting chance at what this brave new world they'd entered.

 

'What did he see in that strange world of his?' Barber wondered. Then took his mind back to doing what he was best at and looked ahead for more potential danger.

 

“Passages...Passages...all over the place...all over this world perhaps...” Galt muttered as if to himself, briefly rousing himself, then he lapsed back into the strange trance.

 

Barber knew better than to halt the vehicle or wake him up. Galt had given them strict instructions that if he was to be found or have a 'knowing' come over him no-one was to interfere with him or rouse him. It would also cause a stir with the other folk less knowing of Galt's ways, at the proper time they would be told more of Galt. For now the Mountain Hold came first. If Galt wished it he would tell them his knowledge and what he had learned of his times in the 'otherworld' as he called it.

 

The convoy now exited the national forest area, they were three quarters of the way to Tonswater, only the bare hills of Wyoming now lay before them. Barber hoped Galt was through with his business then, otherwise it might look odd to the townsfolk.

 

'I'll have to wake him then, no matter what.' Barber thought hard as he drove them onwards.

 

*

 

Galt's glazed eyes looked forward from his seat but they viewed a darkly lit world from within as his essence plunged deep into the mountain. With a strange-force pushing him from behind it was all that he could do to look ahead. The passageways were roughly hewn at the entrance he'd gone through and as wide as a highway. Dim blue lights set into the wall let him see around him as the charged force of energy drove him onwards. Several bends in the tunnel caused him to lose his sense of direction as the jagged tunnel slowly changed into smoother formed passageway.

 

High ceilings of arched rock, seemingly fused to the sides like a melded join loomed above him. All the while below him great lengths of metallic track disappeared into the distance. Ahead of Galt the passageway broadened out further as squat gray buildings came into sight. They were ugly and harsh on the eye, built for the sole purpose of a utilitarian nature. The railway lines carried on through and here small vehicles of metal sat upon strange-looking trains. Milling around these were more black-figures like those he'd seen outside. Off to one side an area of twenty or so prostrate creatures lay on slabs. At first he thought them to be dead bodies but several were moving and strugglings.

 

'Prisoners?' Galt wondered. With split limbs and ragged wounds they looked tortured though. Some shoddy, shambling figures were walking from the wall towards them with a crowd following behind. Not soldiers so much as onlookers he guessed. He just made out an opening in the wall they'd exited from.

 

'They aren't just passing through these underground places, they live among them!' Galt realised. He looked away from the misery of the scene as the journey passed overhead. He had chance for one good look at a central building that hummed with noise; great tubes flowed out of it along the ground, the walls and up through the ceiling. Then the strange energy behind him surged forward even faster and they were gone from the place.

 

Machine-like was the best way his psyche could interpret the place he was passing through, now the force behind him slowed down and far ahead the tunnel opened into various sweeping junctions. The first one to the right was the one he was carried towards, the blue tunnel lights changed to white light here. Then the speed of the thing behind him increased until his vision could barely cope. The rushing lights gave him a throbbing headache which soon became a splitting migraine as the duration of his flight lasted for nearly a minute. The speeding thing behind him now slowed again. Galt tried to turn to look but found he was anchored into position, seemingly stuck to see forward and to the sides only.

 

As the waves of pain in him subsided he saw the rail-line ended and the ground beyond that was uneven and rocky. Crude shelters and small rail-machines were parked and some headed back the way he'd came. Countless beings below labored and worked at the area.

 

'They mean to extend the line.' Galt surmised.

 

Then he was past them and heading towards a cluster of heavy rocks the size of buildings which blocked the way ahead. Now the force behind him hesitated and slowed to a walking-pace.

 

Feeling the force slacken behind him Galt risked a look behind him.

Dazzling red, white and yellow light almost blinded him and he looked forward again.

 

'Hold still Galt of the Mountain!' Came a thought that was not his own into his mind. 'Struggle free from my grip and you'll be exposed to them and risk pursuit! I need to find us a way through the rocks.'

 

Galt relented, somewhat reassured the force had some communication with him, he did not know why, but he inherently trusted in it now. He imagined that it was as much an intruder as he was.

 

'There! I have it. Patience Galt, we are nearly there now!' The words passed into him again. Galt could not quite fathom the thought's words that came into him. It was as though it were an intention emitted and then translated by his minds understanding.

 

Along the smooth tunnel wall, about half-way up a large-enough gap presented itself. Then the force behind him surged through it and after a hundred yards or so they'd passed to the other side. Here the tunnel resumed it's progress ahead, although there was no rail-track just bare and uneven rock. Yellowish-red lights blazed with an ethereal fire. Galt wondered what fueled the fluttering flame. The force accelerated again but not like the crazy speeds of before. He asked questions to the force now, but there came no answer. No doubt it was too focused on it's business of movement he surmised. There were more junctions like before and Galt was taken via a right-hand curve which went back on itself a touch, then straightened again. This one was narrow, barely wide enough to accept a scout-truck or possibly a light-tank.

 

 

After nearly five minutes the travel slowed as the tunnel ended and an ancient staircase led up to the surface. Now the guiding-force spoke.

 

'This is your part of Terra man of Galt. Now you can see that the ills that afflict eastern Terra, will soon come to afflict elsewhere.' The thought translation sounded sad and resigned but then spoke on.

 

'What does it mean?' Galt asked broadly.

 

'That what has failed to take over Terra in peace, must now attempt to do so in war. It must not succeed, for this is the Time of the Wolf!' It spoke this to him with a force that buffeted his mind and spirit somewhat. Now it left him and Galt felt free to move fully as he normally could when 'knowing.'

 

He turned around and saw the entity vanishing back the way it had came, faintly illuminating the way as it did so. Galt resisted the urge to follow it, knowing it was time to move on.

 

Coaxing his entity around to face the staircase he moved up to it. The ascent was narrow with ancient-steps that were somewhat worn led higher until the flaming lights from below faded and it was darkness. Further up he hovered until after turning right, then left he emerged through a partially caved in opening, then exited into the light.

 

Galt was as amazed as he was disturbed, looking around twice he was within a thousand yards of the Mountain Hold. Opposite the opening were trees partially screening the private road, beyond that was the gulch gateway and fencing. He just about hear the faint sounds of laughing and work being carried out within. Then he was wrenched as a rush of interference swarmed his psyche, as his entity were jolted into physical reality.

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“Mike! Mike! We're at the Tonswater checkpoint!” Came the voice of Barber shouting through to him.

 

Galt felt like he was being stuffed into himself like a wave of buckshot. He shouted and screamed briefly, his arms flurried with a suddenness that could not be followed easily. His follower expected a violent reaction and coolly raised his slender arm as a few stray blows were blocked by it. He'd already slowed to a halt so no danger of driver error was risked.

 

When Galt had calmed down he composed himself with some deep breathing.

 

Barber turned the music-machine on and pretended to listen to its steady melody. As he did so the rifle-bearing guard at the gateway came over to them with a look in his eye and Barber lowered the window.

 

“You alright in there?” He quizzed carefully.

 

“Yeah I just woke him up with some my music, it kinda jolted him around if you know what I mean.” Barber said with a laugh.

 

“Oh right, I thought he was about to go crazy or something.”

 

Galt understood the subterfuge and made a sheepish grin and raised a hand in a throwaway gesture, all the while still processing all what he'd just been through.

 

“Nah, just crazy from the blue-light like the rest of the world.” Barber jested before declaring their business. “We've got trade and supply business to do here, one of our guys came down on a bicycle last week about it.”

 

The guard relaxed instantly. “Oh yeah one of the others were mentioning about that, is that what the other two vehicles behind you are for as well?”

 

“Yep.” Barber said casually, the guard went to the paneled gateway for a minute or so.

 

“Galt are you ok? I had to wake you, if it had been that guy who did it...” Barber hissed quietly.

 

“It's alright, you had to do what you had to do, it's my fault kinda, I went in too deep that time.” Galt said.

 

“You were talking all sorts of stuff, I couldn't help but her you mention the Gulch a few times.”

 

“I'll tell you later, right now it would be too much. Let's just get this trade out of the way.” Galt said, nodding at the approaching guard who was returning from the side-gate area.

 

“Ok, you can come on through.” Said the guardsman calling over to them and Barber nodded, easing the vehicle forward.

 

They'd reached Tonswater but Galt knew that his vision was only the beginning of what awaited them. Like a dark cloud looming in his mind he now knew a very deadly force was being amassed, the only question was were would it be directed and what form it would take.

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Chapter 5

 

The Coming Storm

 

Lewis Connarsby the Sheriff of Tonswater watched the Galt's convoy slowly enter the town. With owl-like green-eyes that had a frozen-manner he was looking down from the tall watchtower. It was formerly the towns kiln-tower for the sawmill, except now it had a wooden sheltered platform that ran completely around it. As Tonswater's highest point it was the ideal place for overwatch, being centrally positioned around the main town-buildings. It was ideal for seeing that which approached from afar. To the north, nearly fifty miles away was the large-town of Stellfeld. Distant hills which the highway curled around lay between them. East, south and west it was similar, although the west had the lions share of hills then mountains. He was secretly glad of Galt and his folk being up there, as any advancing enemy would surely be slowed up by them, giving his own town time to prepare at least. Having the tower meant they were master of all they surveyed and it was a fact not lost on the two-legged animals that they sometimes noticed skirting around from the south. Admittance to the town was carefully done and both Connarsby and Randy in charge of the place were not poor judges of a person or his character.

 

 

Two guards at the western gateway held that area secure knowing someone was always watching their backs. As did the other pair of guards at the north and south entrances did the same. The town walls themselves were not capable of being manned

as yet, however from the tower, reinforcements could be directed to areas of the wall under threat and at it's capacity the tower could hold eight men comfortably. Their defenses hadn't really been tested yet, with luck from above hopefully they wouldn't be. Compared to most small communities though Tonswater was relatively secure, wells still drew clean water inside the town and there was a river further to the east.

 

The sheriff ran a hand through his thick reddish-brown hair. He felt like a lord looking down from a town-castle of old. This is how it was in the olden times, he often reckoned. Trade you could see, the people of the place more drawn-in to an area and becoming in-tune with it and things being a lot simpler. Yet instead of sword, bill and bow they wielded pistol, shotgun and rifle.

 

A rifleman called Riley Swenson was next to him watching the surroundings. He wore plainclothes and a brown cap. Compared to the Sheriffs somewhat neater and smarter clothing there was a contrast but in the past day or so they'd grown used to each other. Swenson glassed the area with his binos, watching the distant hills to the north and the eastern highway occasionally. Normally there'd be three rifleman up on the tower, but two of them were out foraging for supplies with some scavengers, they'd been gone for a couple of days now and should be back soon. Connarsby had taken a place in their stead. It wasn't often a leader could ease off the burden of command, but a temporary break wasn't going to hurt anyone. His deputy Myers should cope ok down there while he was holding high in the tower.

 

Swenson was younger than himself and like a keen predator in some ways, focused fair eyes that were never still, like they were always locking onto new potential targets. He was good with a rifle and quick off the mark, he also had one of the best long-gun weapons in town. An auto-loading battle rifle was resting upright next to him. It could lay down a hail of accurate fire from a twenty-round or even a thirty-round box magazine. Black and lengthy, some thought it a bit cumbersome and heavy compared to a bolt gun. Yet with the ocular scope mounted onto the twin-rail receiver it could hit a standing coyote at 300 yards each-time and every time. The exact make Connarsby wasn't sure of, one of the gunsmiths in town referred to is a 'PTR' or a 'G3 variant' in '308 caliber.' He himself was more of a traditionalist, he wore a six-shooter at the hip and carried a precision bolt-gun rifle from the shoulder.

 

Like most people after the Blue Sun had left it's subtle mark on the world. Connarsby, was once a man with an authoritarian mindset, yet since the Blue Sun only on surviving and living out the new age with fairness and balance had taken over. Elsewhere minds and brains that were almost obsessed with the machinery and specifics of items were few now. It was almost as if a gentle amnesia has descended across many minds clarifying what was necessary and what was not. Specific names of something like the model of a car or the make of a specific thing became simplified and made relative to the area or culture that surrounded it. Then there were those that had changed to be much worse than before, city-scum and other troublesome evil-doers had their ways amplified many times over.

 

“Them city-folks are crazy.” He'd often say when hearing of some fresh outrage or attrocity from a big city area or urban raider gang.

 

Connarsby knew only a glimmering of such doings as he took a deep intake from the cigarette he was holding, it was one of those cheap ones brought in from the nearest town of Stellfeld weeks ago. They tasted rough and foul once the filter was saturated but it was better than nothing, he had to take what he could get in times like this.

 

The past few months had been a helluva time but Tonswater and the redoubt state of Wyoming was doing alright compared to most of the other states east and south of them. There'd been a few stand-offs but no direct attacks, places to the south of them in Colorado were doing much worse in the eastern side. Denver was a hell-hole, with Redmond not being much better, they'd not heard much from Gelstown which was the closest town south east of them only rumours of gang-activity from Redmond. To the north small amounts of oil were getting through weekly from Stellfeld, traded for livestock and crafted goods. The toll-system was mostly working now. They operated a policy of allowing those within a twelve mile radius to come and go as they pleased, those outside that had to pay. It wasn't perfect but it allowed them to keep their heads above water. He wasn't an absolute ruler, that wasn't Connarsby's way of doing things, although he'd heard some other places south of them and far to the east doing so.

 

With Randy Holtzer taking care of the day-to-day running of things the defense of Tonswater was firmly in his hands. So far things were going ok. Farming wasn't the area's strong-point, but livestock and cattle were, along with the sawmill that kept on going. Electricity was still going, but only during the daytime. After nightfall the generator station shut down, and smaller petro-machines took over. That kept the flood-lights blazing out into the night around the walls. For houses they had to make do with candle-power or their own independent systems of stored power. The generator station had somehow withstood The Changing. Randy's technicians reckoned it was because the place was so ancient and the machinery considered obsolete by 'modern' standards. The ancient power-generator had had the last laugh though as most of the big power stations either ended up fried or abandoned during the Blue Sun and it's antics. Those that still worked were worth their weight in gold.

 

The gateways of Tonswater weren't perfect, wooden posts with sheets of aluminum nailed to it. For the gateway a set of eight-foot, double-skinned sheet metal gateways that swung back and forth. They were timber-framed and enough to prevent livestock and predators slipping inside. For added protection each set of gates had a pair of inoperable pick-up trucks along the either inside wall that could be pushed into place should the gates require reinforcing. At nightfall Connarsby or one of his deputies often checked to ensure this was often done as a routine. As an added bonus the guards could use the pick-up bed to stand on for added defensive firepower. Sandbags , steel sheets and other materials were stacked behind the walls in the gate areas for additional protection should an attacker aim at shooting through the walls there.

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The walls surrounding Tonswater had a height of around seven feet and had been a considerable point of discussion for what direction of defense to take. Several small berms of raised then compacted earthworks were thrown up, townsfolk from that region of the wall would man them in case of attack. Wooden ladders were used in the case of the walls being too far from the gateway areas. An interior perimeter wall of wooden uprights with inner-gateway sections and patrolways was proposed. The townsfolk, having already already labored on the many berms this was poorly received, some did reinforce areas of the wall with a variety of bullet-stopping materials though.

 

Finally one of the technical guys, a brainy young fella called Eddy 'Salty' Solt came up with the plan of electrifying the fence. Within three weeks they had it rigged it all rigged up to the main generator plant. Isolation switches were put in place in the four corners so townsfolk could climb over the walls and safely and man the earthworks. Anytime it rained also the power had to be shut it off, and with the coming winter it's use would be questionable. Yet so far, by day with optimal conditions they had enough current flowing through the thing to knock out an elephant. While at night during the cool-down of the primary power-station they had smaller ones plugged in to take up the electric duty, these being maintained by townsfolk who lived closest to the walls. They had a vested interest in keeping their generator working as it's quiet hum would reassure sleeping Tonswater the walls buzzed with violent energy. There was less juice going through it at nightfall but still enough to jolt a man about into unconsciousness or even death.

 

They'd had a bar fight in town turn bad only two weeks ago and it led to one guy being nearly killed and another badly cut. Connarsby and his deputy's swarmed the place and decided that instead of a trial followed by exile and forfeiture of possessions to test out the electric wall. Randy reluctantly agreed, with the condition of it being at nightfall and a fast-count to five seconds, then if he survived he could stay in town.

 

Amazingly the perp agreed and the curious scene took place with Connarsby personally throwing the miscreant against the electric wall at nightfall, there was a juddering shudder. After about three seconds one of the guards pushed him off it with a big wooden paddle. He'd burns over his hands and face but nothing horrific, the shock of it had nearly sent him into cardiac arrest, but he soon came to with few buckets of water. He grumbled about it from time to time afterward, but he was not exiled as a man normally would for what he did and agreed to do bondsman service for the mans family for two years in recompense.

 

“That Galt's got a lot of secrets up in them mountains sheriff. Some of the boys are wantin' to follow on up and see what he's got goin' on.” Swenson spoke interrupting his thoughts.

 

“Don't be gettin' any ideas now boy.” He snapped. “This ain't the Easy Times anymore for prankin' around. You go sniffin' up there and you'll likely get yourself taken care of and buried by his boys. Mountain folks aren't for tangling with, I've seen some of them and they ain't for messing with. As long as he minds himself in town now and causes us no bother I'm fine with him and so is Randy. ”

 

“I know that boss, but what does he and those people do? Everyone else from outlaying areas since the Changing is either here or gone east. Every time one of them Gulch folks is here everyone's talking about it.”

 

“I've been sheriff in this town for over twelve years and Galt was already there. I asked the previous sheriff and he told me that Galt was already living up there even when he'd taken over. Now just as he's built up his world in the mountain we've got our world down here. They're far enough to be out of my crosshairs and near enough to be useful. Anyone that can lead a group up into them mountains and live there has my respect.” The sheriff said.

 

“Alright, I get that but you must wonder how they're gonna survive the winter.” Swenson spoke in a reasoning manner now.

 

“I wonder that too. Must be they got a cosy thing going I guess.” He thought about it some more. “After the spring thaw, maybe we'll take a look, just to see all is well up there. In the meantime you keep yourself to the ten mile range when out on patrol.” He said sternly, Swen nodded.

 

Galt had exited the lead vehicle now and was outside the trading post waiting for his co-driver, Randy would be inside already. Trading time with Galt was something Randy looked forward to, he had an easy charm lacking compared to Connarsby's gruff manner.

 

Swenson's attention shifted to down below, it was Beth, the one with the angel eyes. Walking from the woman's dorm building along to the Trading Post.

 

“There's angel-eyes boss, she's going over to the Trading Post.” Swenson now perked up seeing her move along.

 

“You go on about her enough times Swenson, has no-one made sweet talk on her yet.”

 

“A few of the boys have tried but she's kept away from the bar, won't join Dolly's gals working the cat-house and only comes to the grill with the other women. I don't think she drinks, or even smokes for that matter!” Swen said.

 

“If I was twenty years younger I'd of had an answer by now from that lady, you boys need some coaching.” The old sheriff chuckled stubbing out the finished cigarette.

 

“She must have had some trouble elsewhere, maybe raiders got her and...”

 

“Maybe, but she showed up armed with an ancient-looking pocket pistol. I figure she must of seen some stuff out east though, maybe run out of a town, with her looks one of the top-dogs out there maybe made a rough move on her and so she had to scurry off wanderin'.”

 

“She told you that?” Swenson said in wonder.

 

“Nope, just something I figure would happen to that kinda woman. She's not a country-gal, too soft and delicate-like. Not a big city-gal either though for she lacked the snooty-tooty way typical to them.” He answered aptly now recalling the moment he'd first met Beth at the northern gate.

 

Two days previous the lone-woman had come to the town seeking sanctuary. The woman had a distinct look. Connarsby had a good mind for faces and areas and she was definitely out-of-town stock. His profiling mind took her in when she'd arrived in town looking for sanctuary. Fine brown hair that reached to her shoulders, beautiful blue eyes that seemed almost sad in knowing something. A face with proud forehead, full cheeks and a prominent nose that stood out from a receding, rounded chin. Half-starved and only carrying a day-pack and walking in from the northern road she'd almost run out of what food she could get hold of. The town was full though, already they'd had to turn away a group of five fleeing trouble from the west a few weeks ago. Those folks were armed and well equipped though, this woman was different, more vulnerable-looking. Wearing some battered shoes, faded jeans and a dark-green turtle-top with a brown jacket. Quite tall, at nearly six foot and a fine chest too.

 

Letting strays in with Tonswater being so full wasn't the best thing to do he knew; being so full it could barely feed it's own. Yet seeing those sad pretty eyes imploring for shelter, even Connarsby's hardened heart was softened. The right thing to do prevailed and now she was safe and living at the women's dorm where single-women resided. Being single meant she was already a goal for a few of the town suitors, but so far she'd remained aloof. The sheriff himself was already married, although she had grown into a yowling battleaxe of a woman most days. So much so that he preferred to be out busy and getting stuff done in town without than the home within.

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