Upon receipt of Doctor Crenshaw’s video and information, which the Elders kept to themselves, there was nearly a full week of private deliberations among said Elders. A Council of Twelve was convened to make decisions about the future of the bunker and its people, with the rest of the elders being invited to propose ideas and help make decisions. The council was elected from among the Elders, and only a handful of them were truly unhappy with whom were chosen to represent them. During this week of deliberations all the Elders were sworn to silence, and by the end of the wait, the people of the Smith Bunker were quite apprehensive about their future.
A week past the point that Doctor Crenshaw re-entered his cryogenic suspension, Barry Smith was chosen to speak as the representative of the council, both as the patriarch of the founding family, and as one of the most hard working and respected citizens of the bunker. As in times past, the speaker stood before the people of the bunker, with his words broadcast to those whom could not attend. He looked tired, but carried himself with dignity and strength belying his advanced years. “My friends and family, the Council of Twelve and the rest of the Elders have come to an agreement regarding the situation we find ourselves in. First, though, you should all be aware of what we face.”
“Doctor Crenshaw and Tia have informed us of the most likely projections of the changes we face in both the weather and soil quality in the future. Put bluntly, we have no future if we choose to stay in this location, in this bunker, another century. The abatement to the cold of the past is only a temporary reprieve, and the cold that is to come will make what we’ve already seen look like the sweetest of springtimes.” He waited a moment to continue, allowing that news to sink in. “We have been provided a path to our salvation, though it comes with sacrifice. We know and embrace necessary sacrifice. It is the way of our people, and the reason we’ve survived as long as we have. We have gained a harmony over life and death that past generations had thought forgotten.”
“This sacrifice will be more immediate, and more painful than times past, however. To accomplish the goals of our collective survival, we must redistribute the resources we all rely upon to the young and the strong. Over the course of the next five to ten years we must all help contribute to the deconstruction of the bunker and the construction of a series of vehicles to house and transport us south. It will be a long, and probably dangerous journey, but if our people and our culture is to survive, it is one we must undertake. It will be hard work, but we know hard work. It will be difficult, but we challenge difficulties every day.”
“In order for this task to be possible, however, two things must happen. First, there will be a cessation to procreation for the duration of the project, and perhaps during the journey as well. Not only would new children be an expenditure of resources we cannot afford, but they would be unable to contribute to the project itself, and would be a burden or in mortal danger during the journey itself. The children we already have must grow up strong and know that their burden will be to parent the next generation once we get going to our new home. I can not stress this enough that our very survival requires that we have discipline and control in this.”
“Second, in order to provide the needed Calories and strength to those who must do this work, the Elders, myself included, have agreed unanimously to begin fasting effective immediately until such time that we pass on, leaving the burden of the work to the rest of you. Please do not think of this as us being cowardly and unwilling to help. We recognize our age and failing health will be a burden during a time which work will be so difficult, and that the resources spent on feeding those of us who cannot do the hard work needed will be wasted and should go to those who can. As such, we have selected a new Council of Twelve, outside of the Elders, who will lead you all through the coming decade of work and trial. We regret the pain these decisions will cause, but there is no other way, and we beg your forgiveness for what must be done. We will treasure these last weeks with our friends and family, and hope that you take on the burdens we heap upon you with strength and dignity.”
Barry cast his eyes about the room. More than a few people were crying, and no doubt the rest of the bunker was in a certain level of turmoil. His own eyes were filled with tears as he addressed the masses, but he was chosen for this task because of his ability to withstand such trials. “Our founders were forced into this bunker by powers beyond their control, and they ensured we survived this far, perhaps further than anyone else in the world has. We may be all that is left upon this world. Now powers beyond our control force us to leave, and we must have the strength to do that which must be done to continue to survive. You have everything and everyone you need to do this, you must only apply yourselves and do the work. Doctor Crenshaw’s plans are sound, and will be distributed to everyone over the age of twelve.”
Once again he paused, giving everyone a chance to collect themselves. “There is also other news. My grandson, named after Doctor Crenshaw, has witnessed non-human life on the surface. In a southern area of Seattle, he witnessed this creature.” The drawing Thorne had made displayed upon every tablet and monitor in the bunker. “We do not know what it is, but we do know some few things about it. It is taller than most of us. It moves with great weight. It seems to suckle or gnaw at girders, and it seems to be very hot. It has a segmented body, like an old insect or arthropod, and has some sort of hairy spines all over its body, with the longest ones on its back. It is black, with red at the tips of those spines.”
“We have surmised that its black coloration has to do with its heat, as it absorbs more sunlight that way, suggesting that it needs warmer temperatures to survive. We believe that is why we have not seen one until now, as temperatures are currently as high as they will be before the cold returns. It is likely its kind has migrated north from warmer climates, and that they will be encountered upon your journey south. This is why we have requested plans to create weapons from Doctor Crenshaw, strictly to defend ourselves if these things prove to be hostile. I know it is not our way to kill, but considering the circumstances we cannot afford to leave ourselves vulnerable to this potential danger. As such, we have added some of these weapons to the plans we received, and a handful of them will be mounted upon the vehicles that will transport you south. Give them a chance to see if they are hostile, but if they attack, do not hesitate to defend the vehicle and our people.”
“This is a lot to take in. Trust me, I know. The last thing I want to do is leave my precious family, but we didn’t get this far by backing down from a challenge. The new Council of Twelve will be informed of their new roles and provided with all the information and data for their new positions. Trust in their leadership, and know that we will watch over you and that we believe in you. Thank you.” Barry lingered for a moment, but managed to stop the broadcast before his own tears overcame him.
Turmoil and anguish lingered in the people of the Smith bunker for some time, but there was work to be done. Thorne and Jessica were tasked with training a team of scouts who were responsible for helping the caravan train in finding its way through the wilderness of a blasted world. They tried to find further evidence of the strange creatures, but they seemed to have already left the Seattle area in advance of the cold. Construction proceeded, with comfort beginning to suffer in the second year, more and more people forced to live out of the increasingly huge vehicle that was taking up space in the underground. It was mostly walls that came down first, but as their work spread to the edges of the facility, even ceilings, floors, and concrete foundations were gobbled up as they worked back inwards from the outsides.
The bunker went from a structure made of steel walls to large rooms sectioned off with hemp curtains. People increasingly had to sleep in groups, with beds being clustered together initially, and even their steel bed frames being taken eventually, forcing them to sleep on their bedding on the hard steel and concrete floors. The outer walls were moved inwards, leaving only structural support pillars to hold up the otherwise unsupported ground outside the new smaller outsides of the bunker. The earth collapsed in these areas after a time, and the pillars were usually retrieved from the surface. One by one each important room was disassembled, transported, and reconstructed in one form or another in the new vehicle.
As the third and fourth year passed, the tracked train of vehicles started being pulled outside, mostly shielded from the elements with a recycled shelter made of the old concrete from within, which also helped keep the vehicle from sinking into the ground outside. People were actually living inside of the vehicle now, starting to become accustomed to being in the air outdoors. The insulation was thoroughly tested against the cold of winter and found to be uncomfortable but adequate with proper heating. The long power cables leading to the hydroelectric generators were the last things to be left in that part of the bunker.
By the early summer of the eighth year the vehicle and its long train of connected cars was complete. The population of the bunker was down to four hundred fifteen people, and they were ready to be on their way. The group had been renamed to represent their rebirth, and to represent the passing of the last Smith. They now called themselves the Phoenix Clan, for they were reborn from the ashes of the old world. Communication with T.I.A. had been sparse, mostly restricted to status updates or requests for plans on how to create certain tools or techniques on how to utilize certain materials. Even many of the construction tools had been used to complete the last few cars, and the bunker was left almost totally unrecognizable, mostly a hollow pit in the ground now. All that remained was the long snake of steel and its concrete shelter and flooring.
Jessica Crenshaw, First of the Council of Twelve, was in charge of navigation, with her husband Clint primarily working with the farmers and chicken handlers. Thorne was now the leader of the scouts, and they had been responsible in the last few years for scavenging as much aluminum as they possibly could find in the remains of the surrounding towns and city. They were responsible for dealing with mapping the way ahead and bringing their maps back to compare with Jessica’s maps of the old world so they could plot their course, as well as gather any worthwhile resources they could locate. Jessica was also primarily in charge of handling communication with T.I.A. and keeping her updated on their relative location by using the stars to triangulate their location on the surface of the planet.
Progress was slow at first, and by the start of the winter of 2506 they had only made it past the mountainous terrain of Oregon before having to circle up for the winter. One of the biggest problems that had presented itself was getting over the various rivers of the state, necessitating lots of navigating around them, or finding ways to build bridges over them, which was among the most difficult skills the bunker dwellers had to learn with the help of T.I.A. and her wealth of old knowledge. Very few of the old world’s bridges had survived, and only the sturdiest concrete and stone structures were reliable in any sense. They managed to get within two hundred miles of Redding, California, which would really open up their lanes of travel once they get there the next year.
As the spring of 2507 came, one of the scouts for the caravan, Tabitha Walsh, Tabby to her friends, was scouting out the outskirts of Redding, California. She was hardly the only one of Thorne’s scouts about, but she had always shown a level of boldness and fearlessness that had gotten her picked for the scouts in the first place. At the age of 21, she had recently come up as a potential candidate for the newly renamed Phoenix Clan’s resumption of carefully planned reproduction, but had been passed over for two reasons. One, her twin sister Emily was much less prone to thrill seeking, and Tabitha was too highly valued as a scout to be saddled all spring and summer with a mid to late term pregnancy.
This suited Tabby just fine. She had little to no interest in having children. She’d do her part when, or at this point if it came down to it, but she was not going to stick her neck out when she had a perfectly willing sister with perfectly identical DNA to shoulder the burden for her. No, she had been cooped up in that bunker far too long. If she hadn’t been picked for the team, she’d have volunteered for it in a heartbeat. Heck, she’d have done it on her own, but she was much happier to have the benefit of the Crenshaw family’s training. The skeletons of cities were like strange alien jungles to her. The blasted, recovering landscape, the rolling hills and the imposing mountains all enchanted her. The strange way the black and white snows had settled on the tallests mountains with stripes being drawn down from the peaks where water had run off.
Even the way the water flooded and sheared off whole sections of landscapes was fascinating to her. The whole environment felt alive to her in a way that the steel walls of the old bunker and the new caravan just never could. She found herself imagining the things she’d read about and watched back in the bunker, the animals and the plants that existed before, but there was something about the way the world was now that she found endlessly more appealing. It was peaceful. Quiet. There was nothing more than the sounds of babbling rivers, the wind rolling across the land, and her own heartbeat as she quietly observed the world around her.
That was when she saw it. It towered over her meagre height. It had blended into the shadow of some overhanging ancient structure and had been observing silently and motionless as she had. Antennae, arched downwards under their own weight, wiggled and swayed on its head as thick muscles turned an exoskeletal head down to look towards her. Huge round eyes appeared to stare at her, but were so prominent on its head that it could see everything around it, but not below it. Those wiggly antennae are what it seemed to be pointing in her direction, the old concrete not interesting it in the slightest. As it reached out one of those smaller hands to her, she hesitated for a moment, betraying no movement, but Tabby’s heart hammered in her chest. Her breathing was hard to control, and her eyes were wide.
As slow as it was moving, she felt certain that she could escape, and that’s exactly what she tried to do, leaping back and starting to scrabble away. The roach-like thing reacted to her movement within a split second, lifting and dropping both of those huge weight-supporting arms it had and causing the concrete under and around them to buckle. Tabitha screamed as the ground under her gave out, and while it had only briefly disrupted the terrain around her, it was enough to trip her up, just in time for a piece of concrete to catch her foot and cause her to sprawl out on her chest.
The creature moved towards her, chittering loudly, a metallic scraping sound dragging against the shattered concrete as it lumbered over, moving remarkably quickly in that short burst of time. She screamed out again, trying to push herself up so that she could resume her retreat. “Help! One of them’s attacking me!” She barely managed to roll to the side as one of those heavy limbs smashed down in the spot her left leg had been, She could feel remarkable heat washing over her as it drew close, and in a change of tactics she drew the rifle she’d been carrying from the strap over her shoulder, braced the butt against the ground, and fired up into it!
The horrible bang echoed against the concrete wall nearby, making Tabby flinch and writhe as the sound struck her ears, but she fired again and again, up into its chest, huge slugs pounding holes up into its tough carapace. She let out a blood curdling scream as one of those huge fists came down again, smashing down onto her forearm, crumpling the gun against her arm and hip and smashing the flesh of the side of her abdomen. Heat scorched into her body, and she found herself pinned to the ground as she screamed and struggled, her left hand balled up into a fist as she tried to beat at that heavy arm, searing the skin from her hand as she struggled and fought to live. Then the other fist came down and smashed her head.
The roach thing pulled up her battered body, taking her in its smaller arms while the larger ones carried its weight. It was wounded, but it couldn’t do anything about that. Holes were opened up in its carapace, but it was nothing lethal. It could smell what it desired within her. It brought her mangled remains up to its face, with her flesh hissing and sizzling and cracking open. It ate quietly, savoring the flavor of its preferred food. It was so full of flavor compared to its usual sources, and had so many more rarer nutrients than it usually got to enjoy. It was lucky that it decided to linger in this area for so long.
More movement triggered its vision, blurs of more of those dangerous projectiles, ones it could see this time. Between the sounds vibrating in the air, the first few shots being misses, and the thuds with which they struck the concrete, the beast realized it was in mortal danger. It dropped its food, and faster than such a thing should be able to move it rushed away, smashing over slabs of concrete, and punching a hole into the ground where it knew there was a cavity beneath for it to escape into, down into the dark.
Tabitha Walsh’s body was recovered soon after, wrapped up in a shroud and shown only to the Council of Twelve before she was brought back to have her body recycled into necessary fertilizers for their crops and nutrients for their chickens. Her poor sister Emily spoke in eulogy of her, as well as her boss Hawthorne Crenshaw, and she joined the rest in mourning, her own unborn daughter unaware of her poor aunt’s brutal death.