Church of the Ark and Armageddon

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    Jerry D. Young

    [email protected]

    Church Of The Ark And Armageddon

    Copyright 2012 by Jerry D Young

    All Rights Reserved

    The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual names, persons, businesses, and incidents is

    strictly coincidental. Locations are used only in the general sense and do not represent the real place in

    actuality.[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]:[email protected]://
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    Church of the Ark and Armageddon - Prolog

    It had started small, in the Deep South, among disillusioned

    Christians of several denominations, as well as a few people of little

    previous faith preferences. But it grew, slowly, changing slightly asmore people, people with very definite ideas, became involved.

    Elements of the Old Testament; a few of the New Testament;

    passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls; some fraternal organization

    elements, especially Masonic, Elks, and Shriners; a little Mormon, as

    well as Mennonite and Amish influences; along with powerful emotions

    and beliefs of the Ante Bellum southern states of America; all mixed

    together, became the quiet, powerful, event focused religion.

    A religion with an agenda. The survival of the church and its

    members, come what may, biblically, naturally, or humanly. As Noah

    had survived once, the new church now planned to survive the coming

    Armageddon. And, of course, the members of the church wanted the

    survival of enough non-church members to serve those in the church.

    They didnt really want to convert everyone to the church, just the right


    Church properties were always built with defense in mind, usually

    with high walls or stout metal fences surrounding them. The dwellings

    of church members were also built with defense in mind, often within

    small walled and gated communities.

    Many of the church members were wealthy, with more wealth

    coming into the church almost daily. Owners of certain key, to the

    churchs interest, businesses and activities were welcomed into the

    church, even to the point of recruiting people, with already apparent

    leanings toward the churchs basic beliefs.

    While the congregations had many and diverse businesses owned

    by the members, a development of older, harsher days, came once again

    into being. The leaders of the church wanted more than stored food.

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    They wanted a long term, perpetual in fact, supply of food. That meant

    farms. Farms under the control of the church. Farms that could and

    would produce food, no matter what the future brought.

    The church made land available, some by members of the church,and more owned by the church itself, to a new breed of share croppers.

    A few of the CAA members became sharecroppers, but the vast majority

    were non-members. All did have one thing in common, however. Only

    pre-tractor equipment would be used. The farms would use horses and

    oxen to pull the plows and other farm machinery, and the production

    would use only organic methods. No modern technological chemicals or

    devices could be used.

    The farms were only one of the efforts the church took for its long

    term preservation. The members were not dependent on retailers for

    things such as canned and packaged foods. Not even dehydrated and

    freeze-dried foods. Three wet pack canneries and two packaged food

    companies were owned in part or in full by the church or by members. A

    commercial dehydrating and freeze-drying company with its own

    cannery was owned and operated by the church as a nonprofit business

    supplying the members of the church.

    The church owned a commercial transportation company for profit.

    The profits subsidized the hauling the company did for the church and

    church members. Halo Trucking, with the golden halo slanted over the H

    and a mighty sword as a background was a common sight on the

    interstates and in remote areas, too.

    Every major church operation, including their main businesses and

    all the churches, were networked on the internet with a high security

    system of internal design done by members of the church with degrees in

    programming. It was a parallel system to the sophisticated business band

    radio system the church was licensed to operate, backed up by licensed

    Amateur Radio Operators using the latest Amateur Radio Equipment


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    The tall, free standing spires prominent at each church were

    camouflaged omnidirectional antenna structures. Every major operation

    also had log periodic directional antennas for the various

    communications bands, the larger ones for HF frequencies more obvious

    and visible than the small farm of smaller antennas on the properties.

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    Church of the Ark and Armageddon

    Ray Collins eased forward in a crouch, careful of each step he

    took. He had the breakaway tagging arrow nocked and ready. He

    tensioned the compound bow slightly. The deer he had been trackingwas thirty yards away. Still a bit far for Rays modest bow skills to take

    a shot. He was helping out the forest service trying to get an idea of how

    many deer were in the area and had agreed to try and tag a few if he


    Suddenly the deer alerted, its white tail flipping as it bounded off.

    A shot rang out and Ray went to his belly on the ground, the bow

    slipping from his fingers as he brought the M1A around from its slungposition on his back, to a ready position in his hands. It wasnt fordeer,

    but there were some bears back in the area now, and Ray didnt trust his

    archery skills to divert one if it decided to come after him.

    Hed lost sight of the deer, but as he scanned the area for the

    source of the shot, he saw it stagger back into view several yards further

    away and then go down. Ray made no move to rise or announce his

    presence as two men came into view, approaching the dead deer.

    CAA, muttered Ray. This wasnt the first time hed encountered

    one of the churchs hunting parties. Clad head to foot in Realtree

    camouflage, there were usually three of them. Two to spot and hunt,

    with a third as back up and over watch security.

    Slowly and carefully, Ray scanned the area, turning his head

    slowly, and really concentrating on each and every object that could hide

    a person, or be a person. It wasnt until the man moved that Ray saw

    him. This one wasnt just in patterned camouflage. He wore a ghillie suit

    from head to toe.

    The three men greeted one another and exchanged a few words.

    The man in the ghillie suit stepped back into the edge of the trees and

    stopped. Ray looked away, and then back. It took him several seconds to

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    see the man again. The man hadnt moved, but the effect of the well

    made ghillie suit was remarkable.

    Ray stayed where he was until the men had the deer field dressed

    and quartered. He started to get up when the two hunters turned aroundand disappeared into the forest. But he remembered the ghillie suited

    man in time and held position.

    He was glad he did. About ten minutes later the two hunters

    showed up again, this time with a game cart. Everything but the offal

    was loaded onto the game cart and the two headed toward where Ray

    was sure their vehicle was. The man in the ghillie suit had begun to

    move before the other two, parallel to the path the two men were taking.

    Ray continued to wait, watching carefully. He wasnt quite sure

    why he was being so cautious. It was his land the men were hunting on,

    and it was out of season by months. He should be out there protesting.

    But there were rumors about CCA, not so nice rumors, especially about a

    religion. Or as some were now calling it, a cult. A major cult with

    influence in high places. Even some of the people in high places were

    members, it was said.

    And some of CCAs activities were broaching on being highly

    illegal. Ray had not given the Church any permission to hunt on his land.

    It was different when hed run across them before, on state and federal

    land, hunting legally. But, again, rumors were saying they were really

    pushing the limits in a lot of places. In a lot of activities.

    Ray finally stood and carefully made his way back to his vehicle.

    His property wasnt vast, but it was broken up by a long ridge with a

    small mountain stream at the base of it on the side of the ridge where

    Rays homestead was. The area on this side of the ridge was simply

    wilderness from the ridge to the property line. Thinking about it on the

    drive down and around the far end of the ridge, Ray decided that the

    men would just have said they didnt know theyd passed from the State

    Forest onto his land. The out of season activity would have been harder

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    to explain. He was a little disappointed in himself that he hadnt


    It was just salt in an open sore to see one of the Halo trucks shoot

    by on the county road as Ray was about to turn onto it from the trail. Hewondered for a bit if it contained the hunters and the game cart with his

    deer on it.

    Ray shook his head, pulled onto the road and drove the short

    distance down to his driveway. Going to have to fix this, one of these

    days, Ray said to himself as he crossed the deteriorating low water

    bridge that spanned the creek that ran along the county road. The

    concrete was broken up and tilted at all angles.

    Hed put it off for several reasons, not the least of which was the

    isolation it gave him. Not too many people were willing to risk their

    vehicle crossing it, even if they thought they could. But his truck was

    more than capable of handling it so hed not bothered. He wasnt sure he

    wanted to fix it now, with the way things were going in the US and rest

    of the world. Ray wasnt sure which was in the worst shape, us or them,

    as he thought of anyone and everyone not an American citizen. Thatactually even included a few people that were US citizens, many of them

    elected officials.

    After driving up the rough track that was the driveway, Ray took a

    sharp left and rode up and over the berm hed pushed up when clearing

    the top of the jutting bulge of the mountain that was his homestead. The

    berm went all the around the road side of the now flattened ledge with

    the only reasonable approach being up the driveway. The ground fell off

    quickly on each side of the road and was heavily forested.

    It was steep enough on the outer side to make climbing it and

    shooting over the top of it at the property extremely difficult except at

    the crossover. And Ray had a few surprises for anyone that might try


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    But Ray put those thoughts out of his mind when he was greeted

    enthusiastically by his Airedale, Homer. Hey, Homer! How you doing,


    Homer luxuriated in the rubs and scratches to his head and aroundhis ears, leaning against Rays legs as he often did. Ray wondered how

    Homer had picked up that trait. He wasnt a lazy dog, but hed lean

    against Ray anytime he was close enough.

    Suzie came trotting out of the rather elaborate doghouse, with three

    of the four pups trailing her. The fourth pup came running out to join his

    siblings and managed to fall and trip up all three of them.

    Ray wooled Suzie around as Homer checked the pups. Both dogs

    were fine specimens of Airdales, registered and papered. Ray was

    thinking about selling the pups when the time came, but had a hard time

    facing the fact that it would be best, but he loved the animals and knew it

    would a hard task to part with them.

    A few minutes of bonding, and Ray checked the dogs automatic

    feed and watering system. Ray was often gone for two or three days at atime and the automatic system, kept filled and well maintained saw to it

    that Homer and Suzie and the pups would be okay when he was gone.

    After ensuring everything was fine with the animals, Ray went into

    the house, which backed right up, almost against, the bluff that climbed

    another fifty feet in elevation before sloping back down toward the crick

    and ridgeline.

    Ray changed out of his hunting clothes and put the bow and rifle

    away before fixing himself lunch. He checked the internet as he ate the

    bowl of Crockpot chili. Nothing of great import, except the overall

    situation. Then one article caught his eye. The Church of the Ark and

    Armageddon was being thanked for donating several truckloads of

    canned and packaged foods to flood victims of a flood back east.

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    Dollars to donuts, Ray said to the computer screen, It is old

    stock they are rotating out to make room for fresh.

    Dont be so cynical, Ray.

    Ray turned around quickly. What are you doing up here?

    Thought wed spend the weekend together. Been a while since

    weve had any free time. I remember you said you were taking this

    weekend off to watch the Olympics. Thought we could watch them


    Ray got up and hurried over to his sometimes girlfriend. He kissedher politely, a mere buss on the cheek. Hi. It is good to see you,


    And you. Would you get my case out of the Jeep? I need to hit the


    Sure. Ray hurried outside to get the backpack out of the front

    seat of the Jeep. He stopped at the kennel run and told the dogs, Yourea fine pair. You didnt even make a noise. Normally the dogs would

    signal anything approaching, which was very seldom, but Antoinette had

    been up a few times and the dogs had been shushed and told she was

    okay to be in their territory. Besides, they liked her. She would play and

    work with them whenever she was up.

    Ray didnt have a doubt that Antoinette had stopped to say hello to

    the dogs and give them a treat before she came into the house, using her


    Placing the bag down near the hallway to the bedrooms, Ray

    hurriedly did a little clean up in the kitchen. When hed pu t on the chili

    that morning, hed left the saut pan and other utensils out used in

    preparing the ingredients for the Crockpot chili. Even the empty diced

    tomato and Ranch Style brand chili beans cans on the counter. The

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    blender used to puree the beans and tomatoes was still on the counter,

    the remains of beans still clinging to the inside.

    Is it alright to come out now? Antoinette asked in an amused

    voice from the hallway.

    Yes. You can come out now. Rays voice was fatalistic.

    Antoinette had to be the most observant person hed ever known.

    Figuredyou want to tidy up a bit. So. Hows tricks?

    Good, Ray said. Getting quite a bit of work from the state

    putting in fire breaks and such. They are worried about a bad fire season.Already been two. You want something to drink?

    Sure. What do you have that is ready?

    Got a nice stout. Or some clover blossom wine.

    Better go with the stout. Save that scrumptious wine for after


    Ray got a pair of bottles of the stout hed brewed up a few days

    before. He was an avid brewer and winemaker. Hed do hard liquor if it

    wasnt illegal. He didnt actually drink much, but loved to try new

    recipes and test them out on his friends.

    Handing Antoinette the bottle after popping the Grolsch style

    clamping stopper he waited a bit anxiously for her opinion when she

    took a sip.

    Um. Good. Did yourself proud, Ray.

    Thanks. Ray sat down beside her on the sofa. Okay, Antoinette,

    out with it. What really brought you up here today?

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    She turned a sad face toward him and managed to get the words

    out before she started crying. I lost Momma today. The nursing home


    Oh, baby! Ray said and took her in his arms. He put his bottle onthe coffee table and then hers. He just held her until she cried herself out.

    Hed lost both his parents in a car wreck a few years previously. He

    knew what Antoinette was going through.

    Thanks, Ray. I knew I could count on you, Antoinette said after

    straightening back up. She reached for the stout and took another sip.

    Theyarent going to let me go to the funeral.

    What? Thats not right! That all happened a long time ago, and

    your mother was in a bad way!

    I know. But Charles has never forgiven me for putting Momma in

    the hospital when she went off the deep end and tried to kill herself. The

    stigma of mental illness was just too much for him to take. Thats why

    he pulled her out and put her in a nursing home. She was cared for

    physically, but she never got over losing Sally and just went intowithdrawal. I think No. I know she could have been helped and been

    able to cope with things if Charles had just left her in the mental health

    care hospital.

    Im so sorry that ever happened to you and your family. You can

    take as much time as you want to start dealing with this.

    Thanks, Ray. Considering our relationship, or lack thereof, you

    are a kind man.

    Mutual decision, Antoinette. I feel the same thing you do about

    marriage first. But that is all immaterial right now. You just need a

    friend to lean on and Im glad you chose me.

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    Nobody but you could help me the way you can. I always leave

    you feeling better than when I arrived, even if I was feeling good to start


    Well, Im still glad. There are always choices.

    Yes, there are. Antoinette recapped the bottle of stout to Rays

    surprise and set it back on the coffee table. I need to work off some

    stress. You worked the vein anymore lately?

    Been a few days. Are you sure you want to work that hard and get

    that dirty? Ray asked.

    Im sure. We can have the rest of the stout when were done for

    the day. You still have my mining clothes, since it has been so long?

    Oh, yes. I just clean them up after you leave, wash them, and put

    them away for next time. I guess it is next time. Ray picked up the two

    bottles and recapped his before he took them back to the kitchen.

    Antoinette was already in the second bedroom, changing, whenRay headed to his bedroom to do the same thing. Both came out a few

    minutes later, dressed in coveralls and boots with hardhats. The hard hat

    had a bright light attached, with goggles looped to them. They met at the

    end of the hallway, which was closed off with a doorway. He opened the

    door to expose another doorway in the face of the rock just slightly taller

    than they were. The door was set in a concrete block wall. There was

    nothing on the sides of the gap between house and rock, but it was

    roofed and there were floor boards down to span the gap.

    Ray opened the mine door, leaned into the hole, and flipped a light

    switch, illuminating half a dozen LED bulbs on the wall of the short

    mine drift. Even from the door Antoinette could see the gleam from the

    thin line of quartz encased gold. Ray flipped another switch to start the

    fan that blew fresh air from outside through a large diameter flexible

    hose to the face of the drift where they would be working.

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    Ray had cut the vein when hed been using the Cat D-11T dozer to

    build the flat shelf out of the sloping bulge on the side of the mountain.

    It was obvious from the start that the vein was rich. So Ray made the

    decision to continue to work, build the house he was already planningnext to the bluff, and begin hand mining the vein out as time and energy

    permitted. He didnt figure hed lost much gold in the earth works, since

    the vein, though rich where hed cut into it, had been very small. It was

    gradually getting larger the deeper he went into the bluff.

    Before they entered the drift, both carefully checked the walls, and

    especially the ceiling, for any indications of collapse. Ray was adamant

    about safety, and shored the walls and ceiling every few feet with heavytimbers, just in case. The geological structure wasnt prone to collapse,

    but Ray simply didnt take any chances.

    The two picked up their tools and dust masks and walked slightly

    downward to the face of the drift. Antoinette could see where Ray had

    worked the face some since the last time shed seen it.Almost ready to

    harvest, Antoinette said.

    Yeah. I kind of like getting to a point where it will be easy to

    finish so the next time I come in it doesnt take long to get some


    Gold bug, Antoinette said, humorously.

    Look whos talking! Ray said with a laugh.

    Antoinette already was picking up the electric hammer drill that

    they would use to bore a series of holes into the face of the rock. When

    the holes were completed, an electric jackhammer would knock out the

    webbing between the holes to expose more of the gold laden quartz vein.

    Since Ray had decided to keep the drift a little over head high, it

    took more rock removal than would be necessary with a drift only high

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    enough to crawl in to access the vein. But Ray wasnt a production

    miner, intent on getting as much gold as possible for the least money

    invested. People knew he had a source, but no one suspected it was right

    behind his house. He didnt want to let on just how rich the vein was, so

    he only harvested enough at a time to convert to a few Gold Eagle coins,while having a good time doing the work.

    As soon as Antoinette had a few holes done and Ray had room, he

    began using the electric jackhammer. He could knock out the rock faster

    than Antoinette could drill so he would spell her every so often to let her

    rest while he drilled a few holes.

    They both took a break after a couple of hours and evaluated theirprogress. They both sat down on a pair of stools that were handy. How

    you holding up? Ray asked Antoinette after theyd each downed a

    bottle of water from the case Ray kept in the drift so he wouldnt have to

    bring it with him every time.

    Im good for another go around, Antoinette said, standing up.

    She hoisted the drill and began the drill holes up near the roof, standing

    on one of the stools, her head bent at an angle to clear the roof.

    Antoinette finally gave up and let Ray do the rest of the face,

    exposing a long, thick slab of quartz. You know, she said, carefully

    shining her headlamp on the quartz, I think the vein is getting both

    larger, and more laden with gold than earlier.

    Ray studied it the way Antoinette had and final agreed with her. I

    think you are right. I thought it might, but I never wanted to get my

    hopes up. He began to chip away at the quartz with a rock hammer as

    Antoinette caught it and put it in a canvas bag there for the purpose.

    Thats enough, I think, Ray said. He hadnt gone all the way

    against the face of rock, much less digging deep into the vein itself to get

    more gold out. Just like hed said earlier, he left enough clear so it

    wouldnt take much work to get a reasonable amount out the next time.

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    Antoinette carried the canvas bag back to the entrance of the mine

    and came back with a heavy cart. Ray was standing ready with a shovel

    to load up the spoils. The two alternated shoveling and running the cart

    to the entrance and dumping it to one side of the gap between the houseand rock face. It would take several more sessions before Ray needed to

    move the pile and distribute it over the property so it wasnt obvious he

    was mining right there on the property.

    Finished with the cleanup, the two set everything in its assigned

    place in the mine and left, with Ray closing and locking both of the

    doors. Then they cleaned up, leaving the bag of quartz and gold at the

    end of the hall. They would separate the gold from the quartz afterhaving a rest and some supper.

    Ray didnt mind eating his Crockpot chili several meals in a row,

    so with each having a bowl of chili, with some grated cheese and saltine

    crackers, the bottles of stout in their other hand, the two went into the

    living room to eat and watch some of the Olympics.

    The chili and the stout both gone, and an event starting neithercared much about, Ray, and then a smiling Antoinette, fell asleep sitting

    on the couch.

    Ray woke up first, looked at his watch and groaned slightly as he

    moved his arm. Getting too old for this, he muttered. He shook

    Antoinette. She woke quickly and asked, What time is it?

    Almost midnight, Ray said. I need to get to bed. These old

    bones and this old couch dont sleep well together.

    Im with you, even with my youthful bones.

    Ray rose and gave Antoinette a hand up. They walked hand in

    hand to the hallway, where Ray said, Well do the gold tomorrow.

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    Okay, Antoinette said, letting her hand slip from Rays. But she

    raised it up to Rays face and brought his face close to hers. Thanks,

    Ray. You are a peach. She kissed him lightly on the lips and then

    turned into the bedroom she used when she was visiting Ray.

    Ray sighed and headed for his own bedroom, wondering when it

    would be a good time to ask Antoinette to marry him. She was still

    making it subtlety clear that she wasnt ready yet to commit.

    The next morning Ray found Antoinette in the kitchen, making

    smoothies for breakfast, tears streaming down her cheeks. Oh, sweetie!

    Ray said and took her into his arms. But she didnt stay long, gently

    disengaging after a few moments. She wiped her cheeks with the backsof her hands and went back to adding fruit to the blender.

    The tears slowed, but didnt stop, but Antoinette said, softly. Its

    okay Ray. This is just how I deal with some things. Here you go. An

    Antoinette special smoothie. She handed Ray the tall glass shed filled

    from the blender and then filled a second glass with the remainder.

    Um. Good. You do good work, Antoinette.

    Antoinette chuckled, the tears having slowed to a stop. Lets see

    what is going on at the Olympics.

    They went into the living room and took seats on the couch again

    to have their breakfast smoothies and watch some of the Olympics.

    When another sport came on they werent too interested in, the two got

    up and while Antoinette cleaned up a little in the kitchen, Ray got the

    canvas bag of gold laden quartz and went into the third bedroom that

    was now a workshop with outside access.

    When Antoinette came in a few minutes later, her face was

    scrubbed of the tear tracks. Ray couldnt tell if shed put on any makeup,

    but doubted it. She seldom used any, having nearly perfect skin.

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    The two worked side by said, carefully cleaning the quartz away

    from the gold. The quartz was rather crumbly, but it still took a little

    effort to break it up and recover the strands of gold. The quartz would be

    added to the collection hed accumulated. Like the spoils that he only

    moved from time to time, the accumulated quartz would be poundeddown to a powder and then panned to recover the small specks and

    flakes that couldnt be separated by hand.

    After the work was done and theyd cleaned up everything, Ray

    weighed the raw gold. How much? Antoinette asked.

    Almost four ounces. Good haul. And you get half. Give me a

    minute and Ill get you some coins. What denomination?

    Tenths. The ounce coins are impressive, but the tenths will be

    more usable, if ever needed. She didnt even try to dissuade Ray from

    giving her a share of the gold. Hed made it clear the first time that if she

    helped, she got a share, no arguments. This was the fifth time shed

    worked the drift with him and had accumulated several ounces of gold to

    add to her retirement stash, as she considered it.

    They lazed around the rest of the day, watching the Olympics when

    there was something on that they enjoyed. They worked and then played

    with the dogs for a while in the afternoon. Antoinette took a nap after

    that, while Ray got on the computer and checked the Daily Briefing on

    the Preparedness Center dot us website. It was one of his primary

    sources of information since it was so comprehensive. He didnt have to

    go to a bunch of different sites to get the information that interested him.

    It was all right there in one spot.

    He noted that gold was up nearly a dollar, and silver thirty-three

    cents. Theyd been trending downward for a couple of weeks, but that

    seemed to have stopped. Crude oil and fuel prices were still stable. The

    weather was a hodgepodge of record highs in the middle of the country,

    with rain in the northeast and northwest coastal cities. The drought

    monitor was an agonizing sight to see. If some of the areas didnt get

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    significant rain soon, food costs that fall, winter, and next spring were

    going to skyrocket.

    Ray went to the other sites he visited, checking first for any new

    stories from Tired Old Man. Nothing today. But there were someinteresting posts on a couple of the forums. Preppers were concerned

    about a possible new gun control effort after a spate of public venue


    He sighed. Ray felt for the victims, but just couldnt change his

    mind about the inherent right to keep and bear arms. After an hour on the

    various forums, Ray went to the kitchen, intending to prepare supper. No

    chili tonight, as much as he loved it. But Antoinette was already there,well into the process of making another of his favorite meals. Meatloaf,

    with boiled potatoes and corn on the cob.

    It was a meal that hed planned on making for himself that

    weekend, and had picked up the necessary components earlier that week.

    You know me well, Ray said.

    That I do. Youd live on meat and potatoes, chili, eggs and bacon,and ice cream if you could. Now get me a stout and Ill join you in the

    living room in a few minutes.

    Ray nodded, grabbed two of the bottles homemade stout and went

    to the living room. The TV was already on. Coverage was back and

    forth on several of the less popular sports. The pair sipped the stout and

    watched the games with interest.

    But the oven timer went off and Antoinette went to the kitchen to

    take the meat loaf out so it could rest, and put the corn in the water shed

    boiled the potatoes in after taking them out. You want another bottle?

    Antoinette asked Ray. I made some tea, if you want.

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    The tea sounds good. And we didnt have that clover blossom

    wine last night. Want to have some of that this evening, so Ill pass on

    the stout.

    Same here, Antoinette said, joining Ray on the couch again. Beabout another ten minutes.

    Okay. Good. Im getting hungry.

    The wayyou eat, I dont see how you stay so slim, Antoinette


    Youre talking to me about staying thin? You cant weigh morethan one hundred pounds.

    Antoinette chuckled. Youd be surprised, my dear, not that Im

    going to tell you how much I weigh.

    Ray laughed in return. I know better.

    A few more minutes of the games and the two went to the kitchenand Antoinette began to bring the food to the table while Ray set out

    place settings for them. It was a pleasant meal, highlighted by the

    homemade ice cream that Ray made religiously with an in-freezer ice

    cream maker, followed by a cordial glass of Rays clover blossom wine.

    It had an exquisite taste but was a strong wine, so they limited

    themselves to a single cordial serving.

    With no plans for the next day, the two stayed up late again

    watching the Olympics, with the agreement to sleep in and not start

    Sunday until around ten in the morning. With another light kiss on his

    lips, Antoinette went to her bedroom and Ray to his.

    Antoinette took Ray at his word and didnt even stir until after

    nine. Ray was in the kitchen when Antoinette came in wearing her robe,

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    yawning widely. The mining and late nights are catching up with me.

    Im glad I was able to sleep in. What is for breakfast?

    Omelet. One egg foryou, two for me. And a fruit bowl with toast

    and juice. That sound okay?

    Sounds perfect, Antoinette said. Ill get my shower and be in

    shortly. Anything important going on this morning I need to know


    Havent checked, yet, Ray admitted. Ive only been up a few

    minutes myself.

    On the way back to the bedroom, Antoinette turned on the TV to

    see what Olympic events were scheduled for the day. But the Olympics

    werent on. Ray. Youd better come see this, Antoinette called to him.

    Whats up? Ray asked, joining Antoinette standing in front of

    the TV.

    China is poised to attack Taiwan, it looks like. Our governmenthas not responded in any way.

    They couldnt have just moved enough manpower and matriel in

    a few hours to be ready to move on Taiwan.

    The talking heads are speculating, based on some kind of insider

    information, that at least one spy satellite went off line or was destroyed

    by the Chinese. Gave them enough time to get ready it looks like.

    The administration should have realized something was going on

    when those satellites quit working. Ray said.

    Apparently there have been a series of solar flares playing heck

    with some of the satellites. I guess they thought that they were the


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    I know about the flares. But I didnt think they were strong

    enough to take out some like a spy satellite.

    Its all just guess work now, in the media. The government andthe military arent talking. Im going to get my shower. You can fill me

    in when I get back. Dont let anything burn.

    Ray went back to the kitchen, stepping to the doorway from time to

    time to watch the television for a few moments before getting back to the

    breakfast preparations.

    They ate their breakfast in front of the TV. There was nothing newthat they hadnt seen the first few minutes. When things were repeated

    for the fifth or sixth time, Ray decided to go out to see to the dogs. They

    kept him occupied for an hour, for half of which Antoinette joined him.

    Antoinette was obviously reluctant when she told Ray after a light

    lunch that she had to get back home and get ready for work the next day.

    After Ray loaded her suitcase into the front passenger seat of the Jeep

    and went back into the house, Antoinette was coming out of thebedroom.

    Im ready to go. But she stopped at the hall, with Ray watching.

    Ray If youve ever entertained the idea of asking me to marry you,

    now would be a good time.

    Ray was totally shocked, but he quickly gathered his wits about

    him and said, Stay right where you are! He ran to his bedroom, opened

    the wall safe behind a large print of the Homer and Suzie, and took out a

    ring box.

    He hurried back to join Antoinette. She was waiting patiently, an

    expectant look in her eyes. She watched Ray go to one knee, bring up

    the ring box and open it.

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    Will you marry me, Antoinette? He took the ring from the box

    and Antoinette held out her left hand and Ray slid the ring onto her ring


    Yes, Ray, my love, I will marry you. Just as soon as I can plan it.That okay with you?

    Ray stood. My Lord, yes. You just name the day and the place

    and Ill be there. Set up whatever you want and Ill gladly pay for it.

    That wont be a problem, Ray. I dont plan on much. Just a few

    friends. I already have a plan. She stepped forward and put her arms

    around Ray. This kiss was unlike any shed ever given him. This was noplatonic friend kiss. It was a passionate, romantic kiss if there ever was


    Thats going to have to do until after the wedding, Antoinette

    said, releasing Ray and stepping back.

    Ray could only nod, nearly paralyzed with desire. But his voice

    returned quickly and he said, Of course. What do you need me to do tohelp you get things ready?

    Not a thing. Just be careful, stay healthy, and figure out what you

    want to say for your vows.

    Ray really did freeze up then. Vows? he squeaked out. Just the

    regular ones, right?

    Antoinette smiled and raised her right hand to caress his cheek. If

    that is what you want. It is your wedding, too. Her hand slipped from

    his cheek and she turned and left the house. It was a moment before Ray

    hurried after her. He stopped at the dog kennel and stood with the dogs

    to watch Antoinette drive away.

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    Ray took a few minutes to verify a couple of things that the

    inventory numbers didnt match with his memory. Should have

    known, Ray muttered. The computer has much better memory than my


    Satisfied that everything that he thought he had was present or

    accounted for, Ray went back inside, got a bowl of left over chili and sat

    down at the computer again. There were several things he wanted to get

    ordered, but he wanted to check his PayPal account first. He knew to the

    penny how much he had in his checking accounts and wallet, but he had

    a tendency to lose track of how much was in the online account.

    He would occasionally sell on e-bay a particularly nice piece of thegold quartz that would have more value as a collector item than the

    bullion value. Hed picked up that idea, and some of his gear, from a

    small mining operation website. Diggitprospecting, a dot com company.

    Those transactions helped finance his preps, allowing him to get paid by

    PayPal, and then use the money to buy things online without having to

    keep transferring money back and forth from bank accounts to PayPal

    for every sale or purchase.

    Ray put in the orders and then checked the news sites online for

    any further information. None was forthcoming, so he got a meatloaf

    sandwich for supper, a glass of iced tea, and sat down to try and watch

    some more of the Olympics. But when the sandwich and tea were

    finished, Ray just didnt feel like watching any more. He was more

    exhausted than he thought he should be. Stress, Ray murmured as he

    went to the bedroom to shower and go to bed.

    Up early the next morning, Ray had breakfast, prepared a lunch

    and Thermos of hot tea, and headed in for work. The first vehicle he saw

    on the road was another Halo semi rig, this one with double reefer

    trailers. He wondered what they would be carrying. He put it out of his

    mind as he passed the rig. He got on the interstate and drove to the point

    where the reconstruction of a section of highway was going on, along

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    with the installation of a new diamond/cloverleaf intersection with

    another major regional highway going in.

    Ray checked with the foreman to find out what he would be doing

    that day. It didnt look like much had been done over the weekend, butthat could be deceiving. With his orders on what to do, Ray climbed up

    into the Cat D-11T after verifying that it had been serviced as scheduled.

    The contractor was subcontracting a lot of the equipment work, paying a

    good rate per hour, and including servicing the equipment every night by

    another contractor.

    The D-11T wasnt new, but Ray had kept it in perfect shape since

    hed lucked into the deal to buy it. The machine made him a great dealmore money that just hiring out as an equipment operator. It was too big

    for some things, so his older D-7E got as much local work as the big one

    did on contracts like the highway project.

    Ray concentrated on the work. While not brain surgery by any

    means, doing earthwork to a grade line wasnt as easy as Ray made it

    look. He checked the news when he broke for lunch. Amazingly, it was

    all Olympics. The China Taiwan situation seemed to have fallen off thenews radar.

    He was climbing back up into the dozer when the traffic caught his

    eye. It was down to one lane each way on the Interstate, as it would be

    until the project was finished. That, of course, bunched up traffic. What

    Ray saw was six Halo semi-rigs, spread out among the other vehicles.

    Just how many rigs do they have? Ray asked himself. A shake of the

    head and he fired up the Cat.

    Three days later, Antoinette called shortly after he arrived home

    from work. Ray, my love, This Sunday. 10:00 AM at my church. Wear

    a suit. The dark grey one. And have whoever is standing up with you

    wear one, too. If you dont have rings yet, Ill pick them up tomorrow. I

    have my eye on a pair that I think you will like.

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    I should Ray started saying.

    Oh, Ray! Antoinette laughed. I may be something of a Tomboy

    still, but I still like doing girl stuff. I dont mind handling all of this. Im

    getting a big kick out of the pharmacy staff. They just seem to find ithard to believe that I am getting married.

    Now, I just want you showing up shined up and glowing.

    Well Okay I guess. Ray didnt know what else to say. When

    Antoinette was on a mission, there was no stopping her.

    Ray took the suit and tie in with him to work the next day. Hedhave them cleaned and pick them up Friday. He hadnt even thought

    about someone to stand up with him. He didnt have any family left, and

    very few friends. Probably his best friend, other than Antoinette, was

    Alfonse Jacquard. They hadnt been seeing much of each other lately.

    Alfonse was now doing most of the travelling for the company he

    worked for and was in town sporadically. It always seemed like any time

    one of them wanted to go shooting; the other was unavailable due to


    Ray called Alfonse, his fingers crossed that he was in town. He

    was. And would be Sunday. He was ecstatic to hear that Ray was finally

    going to marry Antoinette, and quickly agreed to stand up with him. Be

    a good chance for you to meet my fiance. It is amazing that you are

    getting married now. I just asked Melody to marry me last weekend.

    Wow. That is amazing. And congratulations. Ill see you Sunday,

    10:00 AM at the Church on Fifth.

    Ill be there! Congratulations, Buddy.

    You, too, Alfonse.

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    Ray was steady as a rock the rest of the week. Until Sunday

    morning when he remembered that Antoinette really wanted him to come

    up with his own vows. He was wracking his brain for something all the

    way into town and decided as he parked on the Church parking lot that it

    would just have to be the traditional words.

    He saw Alfonse, schmoozing with the few guests, a beautiful

    woman at his side. Ray went over and the two men shook hands. Then

    Alfonse introduced his fiance, Melody Strong.

    I have a feeling Alfonse doesnt deserve you, Ray said.

    Melody had a bright smile. Oh, I think he is quite deserving. Justas am I. Wait until you get to know me. Youll be surprised how much

    the two of us mesh.

    Well, Im glad he finally met someone his equal.

    Ray and Alfonse were suddenly being urged into the Church, and

    to their places for the ceremony. He looked over at the woman standing

    opposite Alfonse. He had no idea who she was.

    When Ray saw Antoinette come in, it took his breath away.

    Though the dress wasnt a flouncy wedding dress per se, it was a

    beautiful white flowing dress, off the shoulders. Her long auburn hair

    was loose and flowing. She seemed to be glowing. Ray just stared as the

    music started and Antoinette was escorted up the aisle by someone else

    Ray didnt know.

    He took her hand in his when she came up to him. They turned to

    face the minister. Much to Rays amazement, when it came time for

    them to exchange vows, he found himself responding to what Antoinette

    had said. Her beautiful smile and glistening eyes told him he had done

    just fine.

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    Then came the kiss, and the ceremony was over. Ray walked out of

    the Church with Antoinette on his arm to the accompaniment of clapping

    hands. A limousine was waiting and Ray handed Antoinette inside when

    the chauffeur opened the rear passenger door.

    Ray leaned back against the seat and sighed.

    Glad thats over? Antoinette asked lightly.

    Oh, no! It was beautiful! You were beautiful.

    Antoinette leaned over and kissed him. Youre sweet. You are

    right, but you are sweet to say it. To be honest, Im glad it is over. Iloved doing it, but Im ready to have some peace and quiet for a while.

    Yeah. I was only able to take off three days next week. I wasnt

    sure what you wanted to do for a honeymoon. We really havent

    discussed this much.

    Thats my fault. Im going to have to adjust to making joint

    decisions. Ive been making my own since I was thirteen. I sort of justtook over the wedding thing, I know.

    Her hand in his, Ray said, I think you did a great job. Who were

    all those people? I only saw a couple I recognized. Who stood up with

    you and who walked you down the aisle?

    That was Denise. Shes my number two at the pharmacy. The

    closest friend I have when I let her be. And the man is my attorney. Hes

    been a friend of the family for years. Hes about the only person

    associated with my family that still has anything to do with me. Been a

    father figure since before Dad died. Who was that with Alfonse? I didnt

    get a chance to even talk to him. Hopefully at the reception?

    Her name is Melody Strong. I get the sense from her that she

    probably is a good match for him. He actually asked her to marry him

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    the same day I asked you. Despite everything that day, I guess it was a

    very good day after all, Ray said.

    Yes. But lets discuss that after the reception. And some other

    things. I have a bad feeling about that day, but Im not going to let itinterfere on our wedding day. Here we are.

    The chauffer was out of the car in a flash and had the door open for

    them immediately. The other cars in the short convoy found parking

    spaces and headed for the door as Ray and Antoinette took up their

    places for a reception line at the door of the bar and lounge where the

    reception was being held.

    After handshakes, hugs, back slaps, and kisses were over,

    Antoinette and Ray were called out onto the dance floor. Ray managed

    not to fall himself, or trip Antoinette so he decided he did okay. The

    same with the few women brave enough to drag him back out there,

    including Denise. Finally he got to dance with Antoinette again and did

    even better than the first time. Finally they were able to sit down to eat.

    The food was good and the champagne better.

    Alfonse and Melody joined them at their table at Antoinettes

    insistence. Ray and Alfonse were basically ignored as the two women

    swapped particulars. Ray did have a chance to talk to Frank Smith,

    Antoinettes attorney and friend. He found himself liking the man

    immediately. Then Frank and Alfonse got together to discuss business

    matters and Ray was left sitting there, basically alone.

    But that was okay. It was a nice break. For a while. Ray was more

    than ready to have Antoinettes attention back on him and his on her.

    That only lasted a few more minutes. There was another party scheduled

    and the wedding group had to vacate. But it was time. The small group

    had quickly run out of small talk and was ready to leave.

    Antoinette and Ray said their good-byes to Alfonse and Melody,

    after making arrangements for a longer, less hectic get together. After

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    the limo ride back to the Church, Antoinette and Ray split up, taking

    their separate vehicles to Antoinettes apartment to change clothes and

    pick up the things she wanted to take with her back to Rays. The rest of

    the things they would get after a short honeymoon.

    Each of them only had three days off so they took full advantage of

    the time. There was no mining, and only enough work with the dogs to

    keep them happy.

    But Thursday rolled around, and the weary newlyweds got up early

    enough to get to work on time. Ray had to leave quite a bit earlier than

    Antoinette, as the dirt work on the highway project started shortly after


    The pharmacy, on the other hand, opened at eight. But Antoinette

    was determined to get off on the right foot, and got up when Ray did.

    She prepared breakfast for them, and took her shower while Ray ate. A

    long kiss good-bye and Ray was gone. Antoinette spent a few minutes

    with the dogs, but then finished dressing and headed in for work herself.

    That was basically the way it went for the rest of the month. A tripeach from Antoinettes apartment had it empty and clean by the first of

    the next month so Antoinette could get her deposits back. All her preps

    were in with Rays in the mine.

    Ray had to admit he had been rather lax on keeping up with the

    forums during that time when he sat down on Saturday morning to get

    caught up on things. Antoinette saw him frown and joined him at the

    computer desk, a cup of tea in hand. What is up? You dont look

    happy. She leaned against the side of the desk as Ray responded.

    I had no idea things had become so bad in the world. Did you

    know that the US still hasnt protested or sent a carrier or anything?

    When it was no longer in the news I sort of lost track of things, with

    everything that has been going on. The one time I did think of it, I just

    figured that the Chinese had reconsidered attacking Taiwan. They sure

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    havent attacked yet, but the buildup is still in place. They cant keep

    those troops and equipment at the ready for much longer. It is attack or


    Check North Korea and South Korea, Antoinette said softly.

    Ray did and whistled. You already knew?

    Antoinette nodded. A customer I was counseling at the pharmacy

    yesterday said something. I was going to bring up our preps today. Id

    like to know what we have now that weve combined forces. I wasnt

    too concerned about China. I just have a hard time believing theyll

    actually attack Taiwan. But Im beginning to have doubts about mydoubts. With North Korea gearing up, too, all it needs is a spark to set

    something off.

    True, Ray said. He pulled up his inventory spreadsheet and

    Antoinette got her laptop and pulled up a chair to share the desk. It took

    them a while to compare their numbers and get them combined.

    I didnt realize you had as much as you do, Ray said.

    There for a while I was in prep mode. It has mostly been natural

    disaster driven, with the drought in one part of the country and the

    flooding in other. Those things and the drug shortage that has us

    sometimes waiting a month to get some of the high demand drugs and

    longer for some of the less prescribed things.

    Ive been studying my Herbal Pharmacology texts when I have

    time. I need to go through all my herbal and mineral remedy kit and

    update some of the supplies and add a few. Also need to go out and

    scout the area for usable things. Do you think we could put in a small to

    medium greenhouse for producing herbals?

    Of course. That is a great idea. I knew you had taken medical

    herbal classes, but didnt know you had pursued it so far.
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    Yes. For a long time Ive known that there could come a time

    when the regular drug supply line could be broken and the only things

    Id have left to dispense were some OTC and herbals. Dr. Scott worked

    with me for a while, but shes swamped and could no longer consultwith me.

    That is a wonderful skill, Antoinette, Ray said. Something that

    could be invaluable in the PAW. About all I can do is work with my

    hands or my equipment. And dont know how long I will be able to keep

    them running. Or even if they will be needed.

    You thought about branching out a little bit? I know you areworking steadily at the moment, but with the new Doomsday Prepper

    rage, you might be able to get some work digging the holes for shelters.

    Ifyou could hook up with someone in the area to build them.

    Thats not a bad thought, Ray said musingly. Phillip Gardner

    was talking a couple of months ago about building a shelter. He was

    going to do the work himself. I dont know if he did anything about it or

    not. Id have to get a large loader backhoe or small excavator. And if Iget the excavator Id need something to move the dirt with. The backhoe

    loader can do both. I think Ill ask Phillip about it on Monday.

    Using the home WiFi system connected to the satellite dish internet

    connection, both began to do some searches pertaining to the discussion

    theyd just had. They did make a point that weekend to spend plenty of

    time with the dogs. Theyd in no way been neglected, but they loved

    being with the humans and never slowed down until Antoinette and Ray

    had to break it off or fall over exhausted. They had taken to Antoinettes

    full time presence without a single problem.

    Despite the activities, the two kept an eye on the news. It wasnt

    getting any better. And now Iran was building up their military presence

    on the Iraq border. Anyone that knew anything about military operations

    knew that something had to give soon, just as Ray had said.

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    But the aide didnt know where the object was going to impact. He

    did know those above him were headed to the US Continuity Of

    Government Bunkers. That was enough to make those hearing the news

    decide that the object would not hit in the US.

    The story went viral on the internet, and then on the TV news

    networks. For about three hours. Rays foreman spread the word, having

    received it from the construction office.

    Ray, like all the others working on the project left their equipment

    or tools where they were and headed home. Ray took a roundabout way,

    going into town to get Antoinette headed for home with him.

    The low band business band radio in Rays truck broke squelch. It

    was Antoinette. One of the early things theyd accomplished after the

    marriage was to make sure they had reasonable, reliable

    communications. So they invested in three Motorola Low Band Business

    Band mobiles, and six handheld units.

    Two of the mobiles went into their respective vehicles and one

    went on a battery system in the house. A pair of the handhelds were ineach vehicle with a pair in the house.

    Ray! I need help at the pharmacy! Can you get loose Get away

    from there!

    Ray pressed the accelerator a little harder. Antoinettes last words

    on the air had not been directed at him. But he relaxed slightly when the

    squelch broke again. Theres something major going on, Ray. I dont

    know what, but weve been ordered to close up shop and head for home

    as fast as we can shut down.

    I know, Baby. Im almost there. It is a celestial object on an

    impact course with Earth. Apparently the impact will be somewhere

    other than the US. Why arent you already home?

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    Antoinette didnt have time to answer. Ray came sliding to a halt a

    few feet from her vehicle. She looked okay sitting in the Jeep. There

    were no other vehicles in the pharmacy parking lot. And when she

    jumped out and ran over to him when he got out, there were no apparent

    problems. But Ray asked anyway. Are you all right? Something wrongwith the Jeep?

    No. Oh, Ray! I cant just leave everything here! If this is going to

    be as bad as people are saying, then people will need these medications

    in the future. Ive already run off a couple of guys that I think would

    have tried to break in if I hadnt been here.

    You just plan to take things? Ray asked, incredulous.

    Yes. Ill lose my job and my license if this turns out to be nothing,

    but if it is major, these things are going to be in dire need.

    Okay, Ray said. What do you want me to do?

    Back up to the loading dock. Ill pass things out to you. Youll

    have to be on watch in case someone else looking for narcotics triesanything.

    Okay, Ray said. Antoinette ran toward the back door of the shop

    to enter the Pharmacy. Ray backed the truck up to the loading dock as

    the lift door began to rise. There were already dozens of boxes stacked

    by it.

    You load these while I get some more, Antoinette said and


    Ray made sure his Glock 21SF was ready in the holster and that

    the two spare magazines were, too. Then he began stacking boxes. Hed

    made a pretty good dent in the pile when Antoinette returned with a

    stock cart full of more boxes.

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    It had never occurred to him that she would be able to bring things

    back faster than he could load them. But she was. After six trips she

    began transferring boxes to the Jeep after she moved it over closer.

    Hey! Hey! What are you doing? yelled one of the three menapproaching.

    Antoinette crouched down behind the engine compartment of

    Rays truck. Ray was standing on the loading dock, tossing the last few

    boxes into the bed. Hed run out of room to stay in it and still get the

    boxes in.

    Nothing that concerns you! Ray yelled back. He pulled theGlock and held it ready. But just so you know, were saving these

    things from looters so the town can have them after things settle down. If

    you are looters, you are going to meet a sorry end. If you are just too

    dumb to head for shelter, youll still meet a sorry end. So back off, and

    let us get these products to a safe place.

    The three men conferred for a minute and then the same one spoke

    again. We can help. We came to get our wives, but they are gone. Wejust thought you were stealing the stuff. Abbs here says he recognizes

    the pharmacist.

    I know him, Ray. Abbs has a family. I believe they will help.

    Okay. But you stay ready, Ray told Antoinette. To the men he

    motioned over, holstering the Glock. Just need to tarp it down, Ray

    told the men. Antoinette kept a close eye on the men, but they pitched in

    and helped Ray secure the tarps hed taken from the front toolbox.

    Okay. Thats it, Ray finally said. Thanks guys. That was a big

    help. But I think you need to get home. That thing could be landing

    anytime. He shook hands with all three and then waited for Antoinette

    to lock up the pharmacy before getting back into her Jeep.

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    took Antoinettes hand in his and waited the few seconds it took for the

    alarm tone to stop and the broadcast to begin.

    But there was silence for long moments and then then the radio

    went silent. Ray and Antoinette exchanged looks. What is that allabout? Ray asked.

    I dont know, Ray. What I do know is we need to move

    everything into the mine, and get ready for whatever this impact does to

    the earth.

    Yeah, Ray agreed, and then added softly, And to civilization.

    They were working quickly, in and out of the hot July sun, so were

    nearly exhausted by the time the vehicles were empty and everything

    was stacked in the mine. Ray decided not to put it in the side room, since

    he and Antoinette might need the space themselves, depending on how

    things worked out.

    The television was still on and one kept track of what the news

    networks were saying, while the other showered and changed clothes,with Antoinette going first. When Ray returned and joined her on the

    couch, Antoinette was pale.

    What? Ray asked, automatically taking one of her hands into his.

    They keep losing feeds. In a circle around the impact point. Japan

    just went off the air, and Poland, and Pakistan.

    The blast wave is travelling fast, Ray said. Perhaps even

    supersonic. I dont think well feel anything. It should play out before it

    circles the globe.

    What do we do next, Ray? Antoinette asked. It seems like we

    should be doing something!

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    I know. But it is too late to go try and get anything else prep wise.

    I have a feeling the grocery stores are already mobbed, or already empty.

    All the stores. People go crazy. Dollars to donuts, places are being

    looted of things that have no use at all in this situation.

    Ray, Antoinette asked, her voice low, Do you think I did the

    right thing with cleaning out the pharmacy? If the owners just lived

    here But being the senior employee

    You did the right thing, Antoinette, Ray said. He patted her

    hand. As time passes you will see just how smart it was to do it. And

    youve had the foresight to acquire those items you need to continue

    your work as those factory supplies dwindle. Your herbal knowledgemay become invaluable soon.

    Antoinette leaned against Rays side, watching the networks feeds

    go down one after the other. Finally the only talking heads left were in

    the US. Then the networks on the west coast went off the air. A half an

    hour later the east coast did, too.

    Either the satellites had been affected, or the debris had made it tothe coast, interrupting power and everything else. Ray was sure that was

    what it was when he took a look outside toward the town. It was dark.

    Usually Ray could see the lights of the town and area toward him. He

    made sure his outside lights were all off. He didnt want someone keying

    on them with everything else out of power.

    I think wed better get something to eat and get some sleep. Ray

    stood up. I think there is at least some chance of debris coming down

    all over the US, if not from the east or west, over the North Pole.

    Antoinette nodded and stood. They held each other for a minute

    and then went to the kitchen together to fix a quick meal.

    After they ate, the two set up cots in the side room in the mine, as a

    precaution, and put some water out for the dogs in the main drift. They

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    went sniffing around excitedly, but came back to lay on the piece of rug

    that Ray had put down for them right outside the side room.

    Ray woke to the soft sound of Homer wanting outside. Suzie and

    Homer both almost looked embarrassed at the messes the pups had leftduring the night, but they were determined to hold it until they got


    Corralling the pups, Ray let the two adult dogs out to do their

    thing. He stepped out into the open, by the corner of the house and

    watched them. They were often let out to run free around the property

    when Ray was working outside and the dogs made the rounds marking

    their territory again as it had been some time since theyd last had achance.

    Ray studied the sky as the dogs ran. It was dark, despite the hour.

    The sun should be visible on the horizon, but the entire sky was

    overcast. And it wasnt the normal cloud cover. Occasionally some

    powdery substance would filter out of the sky. Debris, Ray muttered.

    Suzie was the first one to come back to Ray, to sit and then liedown at his feet, panting slightly. Homer took a bit more time before he

    came back and butted Ray in the thigh lightly, wanting a good dog at

    the least.

    Ray gave them both that and more, rubbing above their ears and

    scratching under their chins. He directed them to the kennel. Suzie

    hesitated, looking at the mine door, but Ray reassured her and she went

    into the kennel willingly. Ray gathered up the pups and took them

    outside, setting them just inside the kennel run gate. They immediately

    headed for Suzie for breakfast.

    Going back into the mine, Ray cleaned up the pups mess. They

    were not indoor dogs and would not be paper trained. But the dogs, as

    they aged, would become more fastidious like their Dam and Sire, and

    would hold things in as long as they possibly could if penned up indoors.

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    Antoinette came out of the side room just as Ray finished.

    Thought I smelled something. The dogs okay?

    Yeah. Homer woke me up needing to go outside. The pupscouldnthold it, but Homer and Suzie both did.

    They are good dogs. You see anything out there?

    Yeah. Heavy overcast, part cloud and part debris and ash. Nothing

    much coming down yet, but if it builds up much more, it will rain. There

    was a front moving this way from the Gulf. It had lots of moisture.

    Antoinette nodded. You checked the TV or internet yet?

    Ray shook his head and the two headed for the living room. There

    was only white noise on the satellite TV and the same on the local

    channels picked up by a regular outside antenna.

    When Antoinette tried the internet she basically got the equivalent.

    The "404 - Not Found" messages came up on every time she tried to startthe browser.

    Ray checked the Amateur and Shortwave bands. Static.

    Looks like were incommunicado for the moment, Antoinette


    Lets get breakfast and then see what we can find out, Ray said,

    headed for the kitchen.

    Both strapped on gun belts and went outside to get in Antoinettes

    Jeep. There was more fine debris and ash in the air now and Ray went in

    to get them dust masks.

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    Antoinette had just reached the broken up low water bridge when

    the sound of an explosion came, loud enough to hurt their ears.

    What the hey! Ray exclaimed. I think that was local!

    The two looked at each other. Bulk plant, propane distributer, or

    HAZMAT train wreck. Ray named the possibilities. Then, seeing the

    smoke cloud rising up over the trees, he modified the statement. Or

    HAZMAT truck on the highway. Lets see what we can find out without

    getting too close to whatever it is.

    Antoinette crossed the low water bridge and turned toward town.

    When they got on the state road from the county road, the smoke wasbillowing in the distance, with occasional flames visible through it.

    Uh. Wed better hold up, Ray told Antoinette. There is no

    telling what that could be. We should have suited up in PPE.

    I think you are right. Antoinette turned the Jeep around and they

    went back to the house to get the personal protective equipment. Suited

    up in Tyvek coveralls with attached hood and booties, they addedrespirators, rubber gloves, and rubber boots before strapping the gun

    belts back on.

    Antoinette drove carefully, the PPE hampering her somewhat. The

    smoke was still rising, but they couldnt see any more flames, even as

    they approached the accident on the state road. They probably didnt

    need the PPE, as it was a gasoline tanker that had for some reason run

    off the road, turned over, and exploded.

    There were already a couple of fire trucks on scene, with a State

    Patrolman directing what little traffic there was. He gave the two a long

    look, but waved them on through.

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    I want to check the pharmacy, Antoinette said. Im having

    second thoughts about having cleaned it out. Things dont seem too bad


    The debris and ash fall increased shortly after shed spoken. Butwith Rays encouragement, Antoinette kept going toward the town.

    There was pandemonium in the town. People were out and about, but

    stores were mostly closed due to the power outage. Ray pointed out a

    couple, the liquor store and one of the grocery stores, that had obviously

    been looted. There were armed people at a couple other stores that were

    open and trying to do business.

    When Antoinette stopped in front of the pharmacy, she sighed.Sure enough, the front doors had been busted in. There was no real need

    to go inside. The things shed left were of no real importance and she

    didnt care what people might have taken. She had what she wanted

    from the pharmacy.

    I guess I did do the right thing, Antoinette told Ray.

    Yep. I wonder where the law enforcement is. Seems like theyshould be out at least trying to maintain order. Lets go by the station

    and see if Grant is working.

    Antoinette nodded, started the Jeep again, and headed for the

    modest town City Services complex. The Town Hall, one of three fire

    stations, and the Police Headquarters were there, along with other town

    services and their work yards behind the front offices.

    This is not good Ray spoke softly. Both of the towns Police

    cars were burning in the parking lot, and flames were shooting from

    several windows of the building. The most disturbing thing was the sight

    of a Halo semi, with the trailers rear doors open.

    Two men came running out of the building, loaded down with

    firearms. There was a shout and another man stepped around the back of

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    the trailer and looked at the Jeep. The man was lifting a rifle and

    Antoinette, not needing any prompting from Ray, gunned the Jeep and

    took off down the side street before he could fire.

    She barely managed to not run over two bodies in the street, bothuniformed police officers. Ray tried to get a good look at them, to see if

    one was Grant. He didnt think so, but a shot from behind them that

    shattered the right outside mirror prompted him to pull his Glock and

    send a couple of rounds behind them to give pause to the Halo shooter.

    I cant believe what I just saw! Antoinette said. She was shaking,

    but her hands were firm on the steering wheel. That was a Halo truck!

    She cut a quick look over at Ray. He was watching behind them. Doyou think it was just a couple of rouge drivers?

    I have a feeling that it wasnt. Look. Ray had turned back

    around. He pointed to where another Halo truck was parked in front of a

    gun store.

    Antoinette took the next turn available, not willing to go past the

    store being looted. They are systematically looting weaponssupplies

    Yes. And no telling what else they will loot while they can. Ive

    had a bad feeling about that group for a long time. Ray told her about

    the poachers on his land. Its a risk, but lets drive by the Church and

    see what we can see.

    Ray almost wished he hadnt suggested it. Nothing happened, but

    just as they got a good look at the armed guards patrolling the perimeter

    inside the security fence, so the guards got a good look at them.

    The large parking lot was full of vehicles and two of the large vans

    that the Church used for events were being unloaded. Ray couldnt tell

    what, and decided that theyd seen enough. Lets get out of here and

    think about this some.

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    Intending to stop at the site of the wreck, Ray thought about what

    he would say. But it was moot. The gasoline fire had burned itself out

    quickly, and the small grass fire it had caused was also out. There was

    no sign of the Highway Patrol or fire vehicles. They hadnt passed themgoing into town as they came out.

    They were glad they were wearing the PPE by the time they got

    back home. The debris and ash cloud was thicker and more was falling

    from the sky than earlier. They found the dogs huddled together in their

    luxurious dog house and were eager to get inside the mine again.

    Ray set about getting a spot ready for them to use if it became toobad for them to go outside. As smart as they were, it shouldnt take long

    for them to get the idea. A four by eight sheet of plywood he had in

    stock, with two by sixes screwed vertically to the edges, was built and

    then flipped over. A few cart loads of earth onto the plastic covered

    plywood to make a sandbox like facility, and Ray took the dogs over to

    it to get them familiar with it.

    After digging deep enough to hit the plywood, Homer went ontohis side and then back to squirm around on the fresh dirt for a few

    moments. He stood, shook, and snorted as Suzie did the same thing. The

    pups wandered around on the dirt and one of them decided it was a good

    place to go and proceeded to do so, inaugurating the bathroom.

    Ray added some thickness to the carpet to create a more

    comfortable bed for the dogs so they would be less likely to use the litter

    box for sleeping instead of its intended use.

    Antoinette prepared a light lunch and the two sat down to try out

    all of their communications systems. There just wasnt anything

    working. Ray had never had any utilities installed, other than his off-grid

    systems, so couldnt check cablevision or land line telephone.

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    But satellite service was unusable, as where the Low frequency,

    High frequency, and low VHF frequency bands. That meant no regular

    AM or FM broadcast radio, either. Ray could hear a two meter repeater

    fading in and out, but couldnt make out what was being said. So the

    high VHF and UHF bands might be working, but they were short rangecommunications anyway. Same with the local public service bands, local

    police and fire VHF and UHF direct and repeater systems.

    In order to occupy some time, Antoinette had Ray help her sort and

    check the inventory of the medical supplies from the pharmacy. She had

    printed off the up to date inventory list at the pharmacy before Ray had

    arrived so knew what she had. Just not where it was in the stacks of


    So as she checked each box or package and Ray checked it off the

    list, Antoinette set things out in an orderly fashion. Homer came over to

    sniff a box or two he hadnt already sniffed before, but a word from

    Antoinette put him back on the carpet bed with Suzie to watch whatever

    it was their masters were doing.

    Sure need some shelving for these, Antoinette said.

    I can knock some together with what I have, but Can it wait to

    see if we can get some commercial shelving somewhere?

    I think so. The mine is dry as a bone, and the dogs seem to know

    the stuff is off limits, so I guess it can wait.


    The process had killed the afternoon, so after supper, Ray decided

    to load up the ammunition hed expended on his last trip to the range.

    Antoinette got her herbal medicine books out and went out to the

    greenhouse. Since it was rather shielded from sight from town, she

    turned the lights on so she could check on the plants shed planted as

    soon as they had come in.

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    The plants were all doing fine, and Antoinette began to go over

    each plants characteristics and uses yet another time. She wanted to be

    able to go directly to what she needed when she needed it without

    having to research it each time.

    She called it a night before she got too tired and joined Ray in the

    shop for a few minutes. He was just cleaning up after the reloading

    session and the two went into the house.

    Stuff still coming down. Worse than earlier, Ray said, keeping

    his head tipped forward so the wide brim hat would shield his eyes from

    the debris. Going to have to start taking goggles everywhere we go, headded.

    Yes, replied Antoinette. And dust masks. Not as bad as volcanic

    ash Though there could be some in it, I suppose so masks, too, for

    the duration.

    A few minutes with the dogs, and then showers and the two went

    to bed, again in the mine side room. Neither could explain why theywere being so cautious, but they were.

    Properly protected, Ray went out the next morning and cleaned the

    solar panels. He didnt really know why he did, it was almost pitch black

    out now and there was a good six inches of the debris and ash on the

    ground. Given that they probably wouldnt work for a while anyway,

    Ray went ahead and tarped the panels to protect them.

    Between the GALE wind turbine and the generators they wouldnt

    be short of power and could continue to charge the batteries.

    It chafed on each of them to not know what was going on out in

    the world. They spent their days studying and working with the dogs.

    Ray had a few ideas about working in the PAW, which this event

    certainly qualified. He and Antoinette had supplies for a long time, but it

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    would be imperative to have something to fall back on. As soon as

    possible. He couldnt count on his precious metals for a long time, he


    Antoinette would certainly have work as a pharmacist, especiallysince she had medications now and would have herbals in the future. But

    Ray wasnt about to just depend on her for their future . He needed to be

    doing something himself.

    For two more days things stayed the same. But despite it being

    August, the temperatures had fallen dramatically and were continuing to

    fall. There was still debris and ash in the air. Even more of it began to

    come down with the snow that was now falling. Dirty grey snow, evenseen in the head lamps they used in the constant darkness outside.

    The dogs often wanted to go out, but upon sticking their noses out

    of the door into the mess that was outside, they simply turned around

    and went back to their bed. Theyd picked up the idea of using the huge

    litter box readily. Mostly they wanted outside because they were outside

    dogs. Ray took to working them in the mine drift, as much as he could.

    Three weeks passed before there was a break in the overcast skies.

    A weak, watery, partially shrouded sun was finally visible. But there was

    still a thin layer of clouds way up high that seemed to drain it of power.

    It was thirty-three degrees that day in September. And there was

    four feet of snow, debris, and ash accumulated on the mountain shelf.

    Ray fired up the snow blower and cleared the mess from around the

    buildings. After that he used the D7E and cleared it all from the rest of

    the property, all the way down to the creek and over it to the county


    The road was drifted here and there with the mess, but Ray thought

    that with the snow blade he had for the truck he could cut enough of a

    track to get through. But before he did that he decided to try the radios

    one more time to see if he could find out anything.

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    After cleaning up some, Ray sat down at the desk holding their

    communications gear. First he turned on the Public Service Band

    scanner to see if there was anything happening with any of the agencies.

    Then he fired up the Yaesu FT-897D and began to scan the Amateurbands.

    There was nothing but dead air. Finally, after dialing in a

    frequency he knew a local Amateur Radio Club used, he keyed the mike

    and said his call sign, asking for any contact. He tried twice. After the

    third time he got a response. But the man had barely acknowledged Ray

    when a powerful carrier wave blanked him out.

    Ray was nearly speechless. Someone is jamming the Amateur

    radio bands!

    What? Thats illegal! Antoinette protested.

    Yeah. But someone has the equipment to do it with and isnt

    afraid to use it. Dollars to donuts it is the Church of the Ark and

    Armageddon. Ive had a bad feeling about them for a long time. Andafter what we saw the other day, Im convinced that they have some plan

    to take over. Locally, at least. Perhaps on a wider scale.

    Antoinette was shaking her head. How? How could they do it?

    Control, Ray replied. Control. Eliminate law enforcement and

    local government first. Then you can control the guns, the money, the

    health care, the food supply, the booze It can be done. And we saw

    them gathering up the guns and they probably killed the two officers we

    saw. There is no telling what all they have done in the last few days. I

    have a feeling they may have been rounding up individuals known to

    have guns and food stored.

    What do we do, Ray? Antoinette asked. She looked frightened.

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    I have to find out more. Find out for sure. I dont want to do

    anything to someone based on mere guesses and speculation. I need to

    go in and see what I can find out.

    Oh, Ray! That could be so dangerous!

    Thats why you are staying here. Ill take the ROKON in and

    scout around the edge of the town. See if anyone we know can tell us

    anything. I wish now I hadnt cleared the driveway.

    Antoinette didnt like it, but she didnt try to stop him. He was

    right about finding out for sure what was happening. So she packed him

    a lunch, made sure he had his gear shipshape for the journey, and gavehim a kiss before he left.

    The ROKON, converted to a Hatz diesel engine was quiet, due to

    the custom mufflers. He settled his gear and put the machine into gear.

    But he didnt go down the driveway. Instead he headed to a more or less

    invisible track on the face of the bluff. Hed walked it before, and even

    used the ROKON on it. But with it half covered with ash and snow, Ray

    had to use all his riding skills to get to the fire road some distance away.

    On it, finally, he sped up slightly. There were some trees down

    from the weight of the wet ash and debris. But the ROKON rolled right

    up and over the small ones. A couple were too big for that and Ray went

    around, weaving through the trees until he was back on the fire road.

    When it cut the county road Ray turned to follow it. The ash and snow

    drifts he was actually able to ride up and over. Most of the time. Twice

    he got up on some and then sank, burying the ROKON up to the axles.

    He had to use the e-tool to dig the ROKON out.

    The mess was tricky. Some solid as a rock, some as dangerous as

    quicksand, and some just powdery that could be driven through, though

    it stirred up a cloud. Ray kept his eyes well up the road, but he saw not

    one vehicle or person on the road.

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    He was surprised to see from the rise just before going into town

    that some of the streets were clear. And there was some vehicle traffic.

    But not much. Those that he could make out for sure were the Halo semi

    rigs, and three of the Church vans.

    Ray plotted a course to get to several places he wanted to check, if

    he could without being seen. He debated for a minute on whether to take

    the ROKON closer or go the rest of the way on foot. He decided that it

    might be better to have the ROKON close enough to manage a get-away

    on it if necessary.

    So he carefully made his way down to his first objective, Drew

    McClendons place on the edge of town. Drew was another heavyequipment operator that Ray often worked with on projects. He was a

    prepper from way back, though only a handful of people knew it.

    Stashing the ROKON behind Drews firewood ranks, Ray went up

    to th