Gamma and his wife April stood on their small porch overlooking the lands that he and his brother, Ecks, had spent the last two years restoring from the ravages of the war. The brothers and their wives had been lucky. Atomics hadn’t fallen as heavily on the huge peninsula as they had elsewhere. Much of the wildlife had survived, but even luckier was that the area remained a secret.
The Ray family was from the city-state island of Poe, less than a hundred miles to the southwest of the peninsula. Before the war Poe had been an attractive leisure destination, with it’s ancient architecture and beautiful beaches. After the war things had changed dramatically.
Gamma and Ecks brought their families into the scorched lands when the authorities in Poe had ordered involuntary sterilization of all men of the lower classes, followed in short order by a declaration of state ownership of all women between the ages of fourteen and forty. That was something the brothers simply could not abide by, even though the orders were the direct result of the desperate water shortage.
When the orders were issued the Ray family was living in the northeastern coastal district of Annabelle Lee. For that reason the two couples decided they had a chance of escape. The gulf currents on the northeast side of the island flow directly for the northern mainland. If they had been living on the south side of the island they wouldn’t have had any chance to escape at all. All travel to and from the unspoiled mainland to the southeast was strictly controlled, and there was no possible way to make the voyage without an ocean vessel.
The roads out of Annabelle Lee had been guarded. Ecks had never been the peaceful kind of man that Gamma was. The road they took only remained guarded for a few moments after Ecks approached the guards to “talk”. He was kind of sore about having to leave his home. The unfortunate men on duty at that checkpoint would not forget him for a very long time.
Being to poor to afford the so-popular bubble gliders the Ray family had been forced to walk out of Annabelle Lee, to a relatively deserted section of beach. They knew all along that there was only had one option. They had to leave the island. The scorched lands were only 150 km to the northeast. It was well known that the trip could be made on a raft, and that was exactly what they had done. Gamma and April, Ecks and Laura, clung to each other in fear almost the whole way, but then they had sighted land.
They almost died of thirst before they found a source for water they could trust, and that was just the barest seep coming out of the ground. Ecks had all but given up hope when he found it. He had spent three days scouting with his portable Geiger counter and miniature pathogen detector with no luck. When he got a mouthful of the precious stuff he jumped up and down, and hollered so loudly he might have been heard back on Poe.
With their precious water source located the Rays began to build a compound so that they could live securely. After a day of searching the ruins of a settlement on the western coast they had shovels, saws, hammers and other important tools, as many as they could carry. They dug down at their water source until they had a deep basin some twenty feet below the ground, and they shored up their well as they went down. Being poor men of Poe the Ray brothers had done many things to make a living, and, by the grace of the Holy, carpentry and construction was foremost among those occupations.
They built a wall around their gardens and their home to keep out wild animals, and so far had defended them against refugees on two occasions. The brothers managed to find guns and ammunition in their daily scavenging runs to the various ruins in the area, and these proved invaluable. As excited as they were to find those items, which had been forbidden to the lower class on Poe, it was the former home of the bow hunter that had provided them with their most valuable discovery of all: a compound bow and a cache of carbide tipped arrows. This meant they could hunt without fear of running out of ammunition.
Gamma, or Gee, as everyone called him and April stood on their small porch feeling each other’s warmth, and as Gee looked out on their compound he realized he was happy, truly happy. He nuzzled April’s neck and she giggled playfully. He knew she had a very sensitive neck. He put his hands on her swollen stomach and lightly twirled his fingers around. April was pregnant with his child.
“What do you think it’s going to be?” he asked her.
“I’ll be happy no matter if it’s a boy or a girl,” she answered.
“I hope it’s a boy. It wouldn’t hurt if he was born ready to work,” Gee teased her.
“You just better keep your plans to yourself. My baby won’t have anything to do with them,” she laughed.
They were waiting for Ecks to come back from one of his scouting missions. At times when they couldn’t bring their wives along only one of them went. As April’s pregnancy advanced that increasingly meant that only one man would go out at a time. As a safety measure the one going scouting would only travel in one direction, and straight back, so that if he was longer than the time they decided on the others would know where to go looking for him. It was almost time for Ecks to come back.
As if on cue Ecks came walking up to the compound from the south. He had been gone for two days to see what had become of Hemingway, the great city that for centuries had been known as Miami. One look at his face was all it took for Gee to know that something had happened.
“Wait here, April,” Gee told her.
“Don’t do this, Gee. I have a right to know what’s going on,” she answered in irritation.
“I just don’t want you to get upset if it’s something bad,” he insisted.
“If it’s something bad, then the more time I have to absorb the news the better off I’ll be.”
Gee knew better than to argue with his wife when she made up her mind. He resignedly strode across the compound to meet his brother coming through the gate. As they neared Ecks raised his eyebrows and sighed.
“She’s sleeping, bro’. What’s up?” Gee ventured.
“Men have set up a base in the ruins of Hemingway,” Ecks told him.
“That’s almost 80 kilometers from here. Surely we won’t have to worry about that,” Gee said hopefully.
“It’s a military base, Gee,” Ecks told him.
“What? From Poe?” April asked.
“No, the uniforms aren’t familiar at all. I didn’t want to get in too close for fear of being discovered, but I caught a few sentences on the wind. They’re from the old countries,” Ecks revealed with growing anxiety.
“How many soldiers, Ecks? Ecks? How many?” Gee demanded.
“It’s worse than that, Gee. They’re guarding a new space port.”