They had actually trained for this.
Perfect Tommy had called it the Armageddon Scenario.
Rawhide had made it very clear that no one was to call it that outside of the Bunk House. Last thing he needed was a swarm of panicking civilians all cramming for a last chance at survival.
Point being, when the gates of the Banzai Institute swung open, they knew what to do. Blue Blazes, mounted on horses, leading horse draw carts (part of the scenario was saving gas), headed out, calling out on blow horns. Tables were set up at the gate to check in visitors. Further in were areas to get food, medical help, and to just warm up.
Mrs. Johnson glanced at her clipboard. "Juju, make sure you get everyone signed in." she called to an intern at the first table before turning to check the clipboard handed to her by another. "Okay… okay, but run through the rooms first. Make sure no one left anything behind that might blow up a hapless civilian when they move into the room. Oh, and anything you don't recognize, call in Perfect Tommy's people." she ordered, handing the clipboard back. She couldn't help but add "Probably something one of them left behind anyway."
"Mrs. Johnson." Pinky gave her that disapproving look he saved just for her. "You should be up at the house. Too many department heads running around out here, vulnerable."
Mrs. Johnson smiled. "What do you thinks gonna happen, Pinky? Some little Death Dwarf disguised as a half froze, half starved kid is gonna wander in here and start hacking away?"
The Gate Keeper's eyes narrowed. Lifting his go-phone up, he called to his guards. "Hey, hoods down. Make sure those are kids in them big coats and not some crazed half pint." That done, he jabbed a finger at Mrs. Johnson. "You, back to the house!" He didn't bother to hang around to see if she would obey. Hell, he knew she wouldn't. But, least he felt better doing the whole finger jabbing thing.
Mrs. Johnson actually chuckled as he stomped away.
Another intern handed her another clipboard, asking "Is he for real?"
"Sweety, you should see him when there really is a Death Dwarf threat."
"Heads up, boys and girls!" Rawhide called as he marched down the driveway in front of the first visitors. "Lets get these folks logged and settled quickly. Be aware: Beta Team is bringing in a wagon load in three." He turned and started directing the civilians to the tables.
Buckaroo wiggled the little light. "Say yaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"
The small boy grinned. "Ya!" he cheered.
Buckaroo frowned. "Forgot the aaaaaaaaaa part."
He stuck out his toung, opened his mouth wide and… "Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa….."
Buckaroo shined the light down his throat. "Just what I thought." When the child looked up at him, he went on to say "Monkeys. You've got monkeys swinging on your tonsils. That's why your throat hurts." He tapped his nose. "No worries. I know just what will chase them monkeys away."
"Bananas?" the boys wondered.
But the doctor shook his head. "Nope. Monkeys like bananas." He looked at him with a frown and a raised eye brow. "You like cherries?" When he got an eager nod, Buckaroo grinned. "Good. 'Cause monkeys don't. I'm going to give your mother here a permission slip. It says that she has the doctor's okay to get you some sweet, yummy cherry medicine." He wrote a prescription as he spoke and handed it to the boy's waiting mother.
"Thank you, Doctor Banzai." she nearly cried. "I don't know what we would have done… we couldn't get to a hospital and I was so afraid…" She clutched his hand as if he was their only hope for survival.
Buckaroo smiled and gave her hand a reassuring pat. "Everything's going to be alright." he promised before turning her and her son over to an intern to get the prescription filled and return them to their family.
Buckaroo arched his back and rolled his shoulder. "Still alive over there, Sid?" he called to Jersey who was just cleaning up after his last patient.
"I've seen twenty-five patients in the last four hours in a MASH tent." Jersey told him. "Back hurts, neck aches, fingers numb, eyes rolling up in the back of my head. And I've ran out of lollipops."
Buckaroo chuckled. "Fun, huh? I spend too much time behind the microscope or surgical mask. Not nearly enough checking tonsils and handing out lollipops." Grabbing a handful of pops out of his cup, he crossed the tent and refilled Jersey's cup, saving one for himself. "Seemed like every other kid asked about your fuzzy pants…"
Jersey groaned. "One wardrobe mistake…. For crying out loud, it was my first day as a Cavalier! Why'd they pick that get up to design the doll after?"
Buckaroo's chuckle turned into a laugh. "Because… it gets that reaction."
Jersey dropped his chin to his chest and groaned again.
Buckaroo continued to chuckle as he popped the lollipop into his mouth and swung an arm around his friend's shoulders.
"Gentlemen." Mrs. Johnson called as she entered the tent, a clipboard in hand. "Looks like things are finally slowing down. Might grab some lunch while you have a moment." she suggested as she walked over to them. Steeling Buckaroo's lollipop, she shook it at him. "These are for the children."
"I'm young at heart." he protested. And, just to prove it, he stole another one from the cup. "So how does it look out there?"
"We covered three square miles. Contacted every house, let them know we're here and our doors are open. Those who didn't answer the doors, we left notes on their doors and question the neighbors." She glanced down at the clipboard. "Sixty-three medical assistance, two serious, hundred-seventy-two hot meals served, fifteen families request refugee housing, another twenty-eight families can remain in their homes if we can keep them supplied with wood and water." She shrugged. "And I was worried our winter stocks would go bad."
"Sounds like a full house." Buckaroo mumbled, rolling his newly acquired lollipop in his cheek.
"Yea, so, maybe you guys should get that solid food thing going before the wagons discover some new batch of half frozen nuggets to bring home." Mrs. Johnson waved her snatched lollipop at them before turning and heading back for the tent flap.
"Mrs. Johnson." Jersey called. "Can you get Knuckles to dig out the med supplies she brought in. We should have them down here."
"Knuckles?" She turned back. "Knuckles isn't here."
Jersey frowned. He looked down at his watch. "You sure? She should have been here two hours ago… at least."
But Mrs. Johnson shook her head. "She didn't come through the front gate."
Buckaroo scratched his head. "Could be just held up, taking the road extra careful. I wouldn't worry just yet. Still… Mrs. Johnson, check with Perfect Tommy. If anyone knows anything he will."
When her eyes opened, all she saw was white. It wasn't until she blinked a couple of times, her eyelashes sweeping away the snow, did she realize why.
Knuckles tried to take a deep breath, but her lungs didn't seem to expand as far as they should.. Like something was pressing in on them. She could only take shallow breaths.
Sit up. Sit up helps air into the lungs. That's what the EMT people always did. Yup. She needed to sit up.
Carefully, she placed a hand on either side of her and started to push up.
She cried out, falling back into the snow.
Pain exploded across her back like a San Anna fire. It rushed down her legs, up across her shoulders, forcing them to constrict so tightly that, when the pain finally began its slow recoil, it left her muscles numb with exhaustion.
Face laying in the snow again, her tears crystallizing on her lashes, Knuckles gasped for breath.
"Huh. Bitch ain't dead yet." A boot slammed into her ribs, pushing what little air she had out and renewing the pain's assault all over again.
Knuckles would have screamed if there had been enough air in her lungs. Her world was falling into the blackness when a snarling bark sounded close by.
She had to get up. She had to protect Oddity. She had to…!
"God! Will that damn dog shut up?" the man standing over her shouted. He started to move away, waving his hands in the air. "How the hell did he get in there anyway?"
"Oh, man, Charlie, I think she killed him." another voice wined. "Koby… he ain't breathin', man."
"Shut up!" snapped Charlie. "You think I don't know he's dead? Well, guess what the fuck else? Sammy's bleeding to death! That mutt ripped his fuckin' throat out before you let him in the truck! Now they're dead, we can't get this bitch's load 'cause that damn dog locked himself in, and we got shit. Shit! A whole big damn, fuckin' pile of smokin' shit! You stupid ass, Jackie. I should shoot you myself."
"And where were you?" was argued right back. "So busy gettin' yourself some piece of ass, you ended up face first in the snow! Oh to our big, brave leader!"
Charlie shot him. Just up and shot him dead right then and there. "That's ode, you dumb shit!" he yelled, watching his punk buddy fall. Angrily, he paced, waving his gun in the air.
Oddity pawed at the window of Knuckles' truck, trying to get out. He hadn't meant to get locked inside. He had jumped through the open door dodging bullets and one of the punks was smart enough to slam the door close, trapping him. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Oddity's pawing locked the door. And everything about the hummer was armored and/or bullet proof. And the trailer was just as tough to crack.
"Fuck!" the remaining punk screamed, giving his victim another kick.
This time Knuckles had had enough breath to cry out, renewing Oddity's frantic barks. Squeezing her eyes close, tears frozen to her cheeks, her fingers curling in the snow.
Charlie grabbed her by the shoulder and rolled her over onto her back.
Again she cried out as pain burned across her back, leaving her limbs shaking and numb. But the snow and ice beneath her seemed to cool it a little.
He stood over her and kicked her legs apart. "Yea, well, 'least I can get me a piece of ass. Not a total loss." He dropped to his knees between her legs and started to undo her belt and pants.
Knuckles threw a weak punch at him, but only succeeded in tossing snow at him and making him even angrier.
"Bitch." he snarled. Grabbing her arm, he slammed it back against the ground with such force, the whip cracked her wrist. Letting it go, he slammed the back of his hand across her face, splitting her lip. Holding her down by the throat he leaned over her, pressing down on her air way. "Scream, bitch. Go ahead and scream." he snarled, while his free hand tugged on her jeans.
Charlie frowned, lifting his head up a little. "What the hell you smiling 'bout?"
"That gun… your buddy… liked…" she gasped. "There… were two… of them."
Charlie felt the jab of the barrel just under his rib cage.
Knuckles didn't bother to wait for his reaction. She pulled the trigger.
Rawhide stood, arms crossed over his chest and watched as the civilians were escorted about the compound. It was going well. It took several hours, but only a straggler here and there wandered in. The wagons that had been used to pick up people and bring them in were now loaded with wood, blankets, and supplies for those who were returning to their homes. Children were bouncing around and laughing with Peggy Banzai and Big Norse as the women lead them through the snow to the gardens where Ducky's and J.B.'s play set and little school house were. Some of the children wore oversize BB coats, given to them when they came in with either insufficient or wet clothing. The adults staying with their families were being organized in groups then lead off to one of the three dorms cleaned out for them. The two MASH tents were being resupplied and…
"Pinky." Rawhide spoke.
"Yup?" the gate keeper answered. He stood at Rawhide's elbow, binoculars in hand, scanning any and every soul that stepped through his gate.
"I want 24/7 security on the tents." Rawhide told him. "There shouldn't be anything stronger than lollipops in there, but I don't want anyone trying to find that out for themselves. And we have a medic down there 24 hours. He needs security, particularly if he does any house calls to the dorms."
"Got it, got it, got it." Pinky mumbled as he wrote instructions down on his palm before sending them to his team captains. "Hey, if we're taking responsibility for the neighborhood, we should get some stations established outside the wall."
"Information, yes. Security, no."
Pinky shook his head, not excepting that. "Not everyone in town's all happy go lucky someone is around to help out folks. There's gonna be some have-nots going after the haves pretty soon."
Rawhide turned to face him. "Within these walls, it is our law. We have every right to enforce with whatever force we deem fit. Out there…" He waved a hand at the gate and the world beyond. "When the lights come back on, we have to be able to defend every action we take. And setting up security posts is just a little too apocalyptic of a step to take." He turned back to watch the civilians. "Information posts, communication. We go out as a force only when called for help."
Pinky still didn't like the answer. He understood it, just didn't like it. With a sigh, he nodded. "Yes, sir." But then something new caught his eye. "Did you hear anything about a hummer going out?" he wondered. Every vehicle, horse drawn or otherwise, was supposed to pass by him first, coming and going.
Frowning, Rawhide turned to see the hummer slowly making its way through the civilians, heading for the gate. "No." he mumbled his answer before he started across the drive to meet it. He almost wasn't surprised to see who the occupants were.
Reno was driving, Perfect Tommy sat shotgun, Pecos leaning between the front seats.
"What?" Rawhide wondered, leaning through the window to give each of them that look. "The usual Three Musketeers not avaible, you all dug up a new trio to mess up my day?"
"Yes." Perfect Tommy answered with a completely straight face and without a breath of hesitation.
Rawhide frowned all over again.
Reno chuckled, leaving the answering to Pecos. "Knuckles is over due. Over due enough that even Gage called to chew her out for not calling him sooner. She isn't answering her go-phone and her truck has been sitting in the same place for the last three hours."
"How far out is she?" the cowboy wanted to know.
"Something like forty minutes." Perfect Tommy answered. He was twitching, obviously wanting to get going. He was worried.
And, now, so was Rawhide. "Okay… Perfect Tommy, climb in back. Pinky…"
"Yup, I've got the home front." Pinky answered. "But you kids stay in touch, you hear?"
With a huff, Pecos scooted over to make room for Tommy on the back seat. "And here I thought Daddy was coming along for the ride."
The woman looked up to see a tall man dressed all in black for the exception of a white collar calling to her from the first table. She recognized him at once as one of the neighborhood leaders. "Father Gregory. It's good to see you. How's your flock?" she greeted, turning to meet him.
The priest nodded appreciatively. "Once more, thanks to the kindness of the Banzai Institute, my flock is doing well." But then his expression turned to concern. "But, another flock I am worried about. Do you know the Mosque on Harries street?"
"Yea, um, couple of our interns attended services there, I think. They alright?" Mrs. Johnson asked.
Father Gregory hesitated. "I'm not sure. When the power went out, we kept in touch, shared information. Both houses of worship were giving what sanctuary we could. But, I tried to contact them, let them know that you had opened your doors." He shook his head. "There was no answer. I don't know if their batteries have died in the radio, or, God forbid, something worse has happened. Mrs. Johnson, last I heard, there were more than forty souls taking refuge in the Mosque."
"Anyone try to drive over, take a look?"
Again the Father shook his head. "Ryan, St. Mary's gardener, took a truck this morning. I have not heard back from him. And I could not send anyone walking five miles in the frozen land."
Mrs. Johnson sighed. "Alright." she started, glancing around. "I'll round up a crew and send them over with fresh batteries and supplies. Make contact. Make sure everyone is fine and dandy."
"Thank you, sweet sister. You and the Blue Blazes… Truly heaven sent…" He offered her a little smile, adding "If, occasionally, a little off path."