By Bruce A. Smith
Day Five – Dawn
In the faint grey of Worcester’s dawn, I heard the first of many police vehicles giving instructions to the people of Union Hill:
“This is the police. Please stay indoors. Radiations levels are too high for you to spend more than twenty minutes outdoors. Local aid stations are being established in your neighborhood. Place a flag or towel on your door if you need medical attention, food or water. Officers and volunteers are going house-to-house to assist you.”
Sounds like we just got our marching orders. And towels? Did they see our flyer? I smiled with the thought.
The bullhorns woke up the guys, and instead of aerobic exercises we just got ready. Besides, the Commons was filled with soldiers and their gear, and our radio was already humming.
Another Chinook landed and we received our rad suits, walkie-talkies, and two Gators for our own use. In and out in thirty-five minutes, the airlift almost seemed routine.
Wearing his CapCom headset, Eric was busy writing down “orders from headquarters” as my Aunt Teddy would say, and sharing details of our situation. Monica and Tracy’s mom got word to us through the police substation on Grafton Street, which was linked now to the world via a boosted satellite phone. Unity House however, was linked only to the Army’s radio frequencies through Eric and his team, so WCPD had to bounce the call back to the Army for us to receive it.
Eric had been on the radio since before dawn, but he turned communications over to Karen. That meant one less staff supervising our guys going to the high school.
Hmmm. Not the ideal situation, but let’s hope for the best.
We were eating breakfast calmly when Karen came in and tapped me on the shoulder, “Dave, can you come away for a minute?”
“Sure, Karen. What’s up?”
“Bill just died.
“Damn…. he was a good man. So, that’s how radiation goes, eh?… It’s insidious stuff.”
“I guess so. I just got the word from HQ. He died about an hour ago at Westover. He never even made it to UMass-Amherst. Should we tell the boys? How do you handle these kinds of things?”
“Well, I handle things straight. ‘Truth with compassionate timing’ is my motto, but I’m in a minority. Now that we’re talking, the guys know something is up and to have any more secret discussions is going to build anxiety. That creates emotional chaos, and that leads to craziness.
“I’ll tell them if you want, but I think you should. You heard the news first. You’re our communications expert, Sergeant. Go for it.”
She nodded, and we walked back into the dining room.
“Guys,” she called out, “Men and Women of Honor, may I have your attention.”
Willy and Deon were messing around at the far table and not paying attention.
Ladies and Gentlemen…” she growled, then everyone was listening.
“I have some sad news. Our friend, our fellow Man of Honor, Bill, died last night at the base hospital at Westover. I just got the word from Eric’s HQ, and I wanted to let you know.”
As she finished, she began crying softly, and so did I.
The guys just sat there, but Trey spoke up, “That’s too bad. He was a good man.”
“Yeah, not like you,” Deon said to Willy, poking him in the ribs.
Willy poked back, and I wanted to cream him.
Sensing the tension and knowing it could lead to some reactive behavior, TT stood.
“Men of Honor and Women of Honor of Unity House, we have suffered a loss. Please join with me and say a prayer for Bill, and especially for his family, whose loss is much greater than ours.”
“Heavenly Father,” TT began, “we are the Men and Women of Honor and we pray to you this morning. Oh, Father, we ask you to welcome into your heavenly arms one of our beloved brothers, Bill. He has passed over to your care last night, Oh, Heavenly Father, and at this time of judgment we want you to know, as you surely do, how he served you Father, certainly in his last days.
“He was a good man, Oh, Heavenly Father, and is worthy of eternal life with you in heaven. Bill was always a man you could count on, as we did here in our time of need. Oh, Heavenly Father, our brother Bill traded his last days on earth to be with us instead of seeking his own family, who surely needed him as much as we did.
“Now that you have taken Bill from his earthly time, oh, Heavenly Father, we ask that you watch over his wife and six-year old daughter with all the vigilance of a mighty Father, as Bill was worthy of them and he, they. We pray this, oh, Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus. And may you continue to bless the Men and Women of Unity House, who go to perilous duty this day in your name. May you watch over us and protect us, and we thank you for the blessing of being in this bountiful house with righteous men and women. Thank you, Heavenly Father for all your blessings that you have bestowed upon us, and we pray for your continued mercy in the days to come. Amen.”
“Amen.” The ‘amen choruses’ were getting a little stronger as more minds attuned into TT’s cadence and intent.
“Does anyone have anything to say in Bill’s memory?” Terry asked.
After a lengthy pause, I spoke. “Is there anything anyone would like to say about Bill’s passing?” Eric surprised me and spoke first.
“I have been a professional soldier all my adult life. Losing a comrade in arms is never easy, and for some of you this may be the first time you have lost someone you know, or someone that you care about. Then again, maybe not, for some of you. I pray to God that Bill is the last.”
Deon stood next, again another surprise. “I didn’t know Bill real well, but I think God was looking out for us by sending Bill to us with a truck load of food. I think that’s a miracle.”
“Yeah,” agreed KA, and the rest nodded their heads.
In the past, I had wanted to strangle Deon often, but other times, like this time, he was truly inspiring.
“I wanna say something,” Ryan announced, slowly rising.
Willy raised his eyebrows and began to say something undoubtedly taunting, but this time it was Deon who shushed him.
“Bill was a friend of mine, and I’m sorry he’s dead. Bill always said ‘hello’ to me, and gave me a dollar to help him unload his truck. Not every time, but sometimes. I liked Bill, and I wish he wasn’t dead. He always… ah… he always, er, he always, ah…,” Ryan just couldn’t get it out.
“Like what man,” Willy insisted. “C’mon. Say it.”
“Bill always treated me like I was, ah,” Ryan paused again.
Oh this is getting tough, I thought, but my heart told me to be quiet when my head said finish his words.
“Bill always treated me like I was, ah … real.”
“Real?” I asked. “How so?”
“He treated me like I was real, like a real, you know….”
“Like a real person, not a ward of the state, or a dummy from Special Ed class? Something like that?” offered Trey.
“Yeah, that’s it. Trey said it everybody. Thanks, Trey. Bill treated me like I was a real person and not some lousy kid that the state needs to take care of.”
Whew, Ryan just said a mouthful.
“Cool,” Willy said. “Now can we go and get ready?”
TT cut him off. “I think Ryan just said a very important thing. I want to congratulate him on telling us how much Bill meant to him because that helps me know how much Bill meant to me. Thank you, Ryan.”
“Yeah,” agreed Kevin A, joined by a quiet chorus of ascent, and even Willy was catching some of the vibe.
Feeling warm inside, I joined the throng heading to the Commons room portal to put on our new radiation suits.
Day Five, 8:10 a.m.
A second Chinook landed in our field and unloaded a big diesel generator on a wheeled dolly, and dozens of cases of medical supplies, cots, bedding, and more MREs.
Suited up, we now unloaded our own supplies and hauled them out of the LZ to our new storage Mylar portal, next to Eric’s original one by the main Commons door. Next to that we stacked forty, five-gallon cans of diesel fuel with the generator, but the water and food into came directly into Unity, and we started stacking them in the Commons, and then in hallways.
Our three-hundred gallons of water came in sixty, five gallon cans, and we were busy unloading our supply Chinook, but two more Chinooks flew overhead towards the High School, so TT and Terry took the two K’s, Trey, Willy, and the two girls down to the high school in the Nuke Mobile as per our arrangements with Eric.
Ryan and I stayed outdoors to finish unloading the Chinook, while Eric, Karen, Adam, Deon, and Naleef went back inside to continue stacking the water, food and medical stuff. We were concerned with possible radiation effects on the food and water if it stayed outside for too long a duration.
Naleef was really challenged carrying a five-gallon can of water that weighted over forty pounds, and the sloshing made it truly beyond his strength. Seeing his limitations, the “Inside Crew” put him on quartermaster duty, writing down on a master list where everything was stowed.
Adam got out the handtruck, but the water loads tumbled every time they went over a seam in the floor. So, the crew resorted to just stacking our jogs of water in the Commons room, just inside the portal. The food and medical supplies were deposited wherever it looked convenient.
An hour later, we looked like an army supply depot with cases of gear and supplies stacked in the Commons room and hallways, medical equipment in the dining room, and food packed to the kitchen ceiling. We were now truly in close quarters.
Eric and his squad joined the engineering team choppered in on our third flight of the morning, and together they roared off on their Gators to get the Worcester Power and Light substation back on line. After that, they were going to coordinate things with the police and fire, and check-out the high school.
Throughout the morning, more Chinooks flew over us toward the high school and St. Vincent’s, so we knew help – and lots of it – was coming in. I just prayed it would be in time.
Adam remained with Naleef and Deon, and they put the finishing touches on the piles of stuff before they headed out into the neighborhood on foot.
Day Five – 10:30 am
Sgt Jackson was hunched over a new, much bigger radio that was the size of a TV, courtesy of a fourth Chinook delivery. She wore her headphones and was concentrating intently. After a minute she eased up, and I asked, “What’s happening?”
“Lots. The convoy with water and doctors is on its way to us, but it’s delayed.
“Yes, that’s what we heard from the cops.”
“It’s serious. There’s an overturned bus and part of a building blocking the roadway, and there’s some question if the viaduct is strong enough to handle the weight of the trucks. There’s a discussion going on right now of turning the convoy around and coming up Granite or Massasoit, but that would take a lot of time too, because Massasoit is blown out between us and Vernon Hill.
“Engineers are underneath the viaduct, and so far, everybody thinks it’ll take the weight. Mass-Fire and Rescue is down there with several teams of plasma cutters and heavy equipment to clear the roadway. Apparently, some of the bridge fell over onto the roadway, too. It’s a real mess from what I can gather.”
“What’s their best estimate for an ETA here?”
“At least another hour is what the Army is saying at the moment.”
“What else is happening? How about water?”
“Engineers are at Worcester Power and Light, but I have no idea when things will be fixed. Nobody has cell phones or regular radio;… the radiation is still too thick for clear communication. Land-lines are iffy and ours are still out. We sure could use some rain to wash the air a bit, and get the cell phones back online at least.”
“Interesting concept,” I said, ‘washing air.’”
“Yeah,” Karen replied, “but that’s what we need.”
“Can I listen?” Ryan asked, apparently changing his mind about a nap.
Karen hesitated, and looked at me.
“Okay,” Karen said to Ryan, “but let me show you how to use everything, first, okay?”
“Sure,” Ryan said, but he immediately disregarded her instructions and adjusted the volume control.
Karen jumped and pulled his hand away from the dials.
“I’ll show you, first. Right?”
“Okay, then. Do you hear the beeps?”
“No,” Ryan said quizzically. “What beeps?”
“They’re in the background, they’re faint. It’s a constant to let you know your unit is working, and that CapCom or base command is on line, but they’re just not talking.”
“Miller Four, Base One, what’s your 20?”
“I heard something!” Ryan squealed in a harsh whisper.
“What did they’re say?”
“If they ask for Unity One, or Unity Triage, you give it to me, okay?”
“Base One, Miller Four. Our 20 is still South Grafton Street and the viaduct one-mile from FoMed North destination, and we are stationary. Still clearing road debris. ETA to FoMed-North is still ten-triple-plus.”
“Roger, Miller Four, still ten-triple-plus ETA to FoMed-North. Copy that FoMed-North?”
“Roger that, Base One, FoMed-North copy. Miller Four still ten-triple-plus on its ETA.”
“Miller Four, FoMed-North, copy?”
“Go for Miller Four, FoMed-North.”
“Miller Four, we need a medical team A-sap. Can you send a Gator to rendezvous and carry back two docs?”
“Roger that, FoMed-North, we’ve got docs stacked and packed, but they are not suited up. Repeat, they are not suited up.”
“Miller Four, can two docs be suited up?”
“Roger that. Our transporter has two suits on it.”
“Miller Four, get one surgeon and one anesthesiologist suited and ready for transfer. We’ll send you a Gator.”
“Roger that, FoMed-North. Two docs on the blocks, suited-up.”
“Ten-Four, Miller Four…. Standby.”
“FoMed-North to Unity One.”
Ryan whipped off the headphones and flung them at Karen. They went sailing wide and right, but she caught them like a Cal Ripken.
“They’re calling Unity One!”
“FoMed-North, Unity One…. Unity One do you copy?”
“Unity One,” said Karen. “Go for Unity.”
“Unity One, this is FoMed-North. Do you copy our need for a Gator to rendezvous with Miller Four at South Grafton Street and the viaduct?”
“Negative, FoMed-North, I missed that transmission, sorry. But I copy now that Miller Four needs a Gator.”
“Yes, Unity One, is your Gator available?”
“Dave, has Adam gone yet? We need a Gator at the viaduct!”
I ran to the window.
“They’re just leaving. Stop!” I shouted.
Naleef, though, ran out of the house, in his socks no less, chasing the Gator.
Adam and Deon were driving down TT’s road and were well out of earshot. Naleef ran across our yard, hopped over the Abbey’s garden fence, and scrambled down the thirty-foot embankment leading away from the gardens. Then, he was out of my sight.
But I knew his plan. He was short-cutting the switchback on TT’s road.
I heard the Gator stop and then speed back up. They came tearing back up the hill.
“Naleef got ‘em!” I shouted from the window.
“FoMed-North, Unity One has a Gator ready to go. What do you need?”
“Unity One, send your Gator to the Miller Four convoy at South Grafton Street at the viaduct. We need two docs transported to North High School stat. Send your Gator down to the convoy and transport them back up to us. They’ll be wearing rad suits. Copy?”
“Roger that, FoMed-North. Unity to send one Gator to South Grafton Street at the viaduct and transport two doctors to North High School.”
“Unity One, out.”
“Can you relay that, Dave?”
Adam looked a little nervous when I shouted the instructions through the window.
“I’m not one-hundred percent sure where the new North High is, Dave. I’ve been a Board member for a while.”
“I understand, Adam.” It’s not that new. But I know how things change.
“I’ll show, him,” shouted Deon. “I know how to get to the high school.”
“There ya go, Adam,” I called out. “Be a hero, Deon.”
“Go to your destiny,” Naleef said quietly as he came back into the house and heard my shouted conversation with the Gator guys. I had never really heard him speak up before. I was impressed.
“Naleef, you need to take a shower, or a sponge bath, or whatever we’re calling our wash-downs at this point. Let me know if you need some help bringing more water into the bathroom.”
“I can do it. There’s still a pot of warm water on the stove,” he answered.
“Well, then it’s all yours. And wash those clothes, too, or put them wherever we’re putting radioactive clothes at this point. Definitely in a bag and put them outside. Okay.”
Naleef nodded, and starting walking towards the bathrooms.
“Naleef!” I called out.
“Nice work out there… pretty quick thinking.”
“And Naleef, remember it takes balls to be a hero once, but it takes brains to be a hero twice. I read that somewhere, or maybe I saw it in the movies. Okay?”
“Do you know what that means?”
“Yeah; don’t take chances unless you know the odds and it’s worth the risk.”
I nodded. I couldn’t have said it better, kiddo.
I returned to Karen’s radio station. Ryan was back on the head phones.
“Dave,” asked Karen, “do you think it’d be okay if I train Ryan to be a radio operator? I’m gonna need some backup, even if it’s just for potty breaks.”
“Yeah,” I said, “why not?” I continued thinking out loud, and motioned to Karen to step away from Ryan’s hearing.
“The idea has risks,” I whispered, walking to the other side of the Commons, “but we adults can’t do everything. We have to give the kids as much as they can handle. Is there any information coming over the air waves that you wouldn’t want a S.O. to hear?”
“Sexual Offender. Ryan’s an S.O. Did three years.”
“At Berkshire Valley?”
“He told me he was there, but I didn’t know what for, exactly. I don’t think there’s anything on the radio that would be sensitive to him, but what do you mean by sensitive?”
“Any sexually graphic references? Like, anybody out there who is really off-color, peppering his transmissions with references to female body parts… that kind of thing?”
“Oh, no. There’s nothing like that.
“Well good, then.”
“Then, I think he could be a radio operator with your supervision. Give it a try and see how it goes.”
“I’ll tell Base that we’re putting one of our kids on.”
“Tell ‘em I think it’s okay.”
“I was planning on doing that.”
“Were you going to ask me before you did?”
“I didn’t think so, but I thought I’d ask,” I said, smiling.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she said, poking me in the ribs, “I’ve got work to do to in order to expand the communication resources of Unity House.”
“Ten-four, Sergeant,” I replied, and pushed her teasingly. She kicked back and hit my leg hard in the shin bone.
Gawd, she plays rough.