We picked up the pieces. No, I don’t just mean cleaning up the damage to our house (that took a freakin’ long time though). I mean putting our lives back together after all the insanity that’s been taking place. Nice to get a day of respite from all that.
I spent last night alone in our base, a base covered in refuse on every floor. I heard the dogs barking at night and I was afraid they might get in and get me. Is that even a thing they do? Food has got to be getting scarce out there. They’ve already eaten each other, eaten rats and cats and roaches. How much longer will the rats and stuff last living off the refuse of my city?
God, please let everyone come back. I get it, you’re mad. We’ll repent. We’ll change. Whatever, just bring them back. Mom, Jennifer, I hope you’re okay. Wherever you are. I’m thinking about you. We’ll get through this
I missed having Huan with me, for sure. My buddy would’ve kept me safe. As it was I barely slept, even with all the doors locked. Dogs can’t open doors, right? My bedroom is on the third floor, the master at the highest level of the house, so I don’t think they could’ve got in even if they wanted.
Sleeping alone reminded me of just how awful it would be not to have all the other ponies to keep me company. It’s true that we aren’t really meant for a solitary existence. I still remember how awful that first week was. I’m not sure how long I would last on my own, even though I don’t think I’d ever starve.
The next morning, everyone came back. Sky and Moriah made it first, since they were so much closer. I wanted to stay and help Sky get the cattle herd back into pasture, but there was no time. I had to leave again. This time, for a better reason: getting our medical supplies.
Driving down to Bakersfield was a bit of an adventure. I don't think there was an airtight seal on the gas tank in this car, and unlike our trucks and things (which have been constantly cycling diesel for some time now, with no fuel left to sit around), this one just sat there. Yeah, I filled it with fresh fuel before I left town, but I was kinda in a hurry. Didn't drain the mostly empty tank or flush the lines or anything, like I would've if I'd still been working.
Why, you ask? Well, this probably doesn't matter anymore, since refining oil into gasoline is damn difficult, but fuel doesn't last forever. I had to look it up a few months back (MONTHS? MONTHS! Almost). Oxygen reacts with all those delicious hydrocarbons, lowers the octane and all sorts of other nasty stuff. Gasoline normally stores for about three months, if the temperature is moderate and there's not a lot of air. That should mean that the gas in most cars would still be perfectly fine to drive, right?
Well, the SUV I picked must've been open to the air or something, because I got halfway up the grapevine and the whole thing started shaking and sputtering. If I hadn't been in the middle of nowhere, I might've stopped it right there. God knows continuing to drive it was doing horrible things to that engine. I drove it anyway, praying to Vulcan and Hephaestus and all the other forge gods I knew of it wasn't going to break down (or worse, burst into flames and send me into an accident on one of the cliff sections of the road).
It appears the gods of the forge heard my prayers, because I made it to Bakersfield, rolling in at about twenty miles per hour with a car that was belching smoke by then. I walked most of the way from there. Huan found me, and I followed him back to some angry looking friends of mine.
Moral of the story? I've been making the right choice to use diesel for everything. It's not perfect (fungus can grow in it. FUNGUS!), but it seems to last longer than gasoline. Which is good, because we're gonna need the fuel for way more than three months. What an awful shame, really, that we've got a whole world full of fuel and it's all rotting away. Whatever. We talked about it later.
I didn't even tell them about my adventure getting there, just got back into the medicine truck, which still had a quarter tank (it'd used lots of the fuel keeping cold yesterday I guess. At least Oliver knew enough to keep the thing running so it would have power. He'd probably hate me forever if I'd been the reason all that medicine went bad). Drove back home at some safe highway speeds, and didn't feel like I was going to explode once the whole way.
New unicorn seems to be healing very well, considering. There are still thin patches of fur where we had to use stitches (really poor job we did, by the way. She’s gonna be rockin’ scars under her coat for the rest of forever). She can walk now, though not terribly stable. Still wearing bandages on her head (I’m glad, not excited about looking at that stump all day. Maybe we can make her a prosthetic horn?).
I think she was angrier about what happened to our base than anyone, and she hasn’t even done anything to help build it. Thought we should go after them, rough up the “HPI” for what they did to us. I told her that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard and we sure as heck weren’t going to “rough up” a coordinated military force, even if it looked small. She could shut up and help us clean, or get out of the way.
To her credit, she did help us clean. Got to learn a little more about her then, which was nice. Apparently she was the oldest of three from some rich Northern California family. Her father was a commercial airline pilot, which was why she had wanted to go into the business. She hadn’t really taken life seriously up ‘til now, or else she probably could’ve been. Yeah, I think all of us fit that bill a little.
More than all that, I wanted to learn her skills. Not much there. She’s done metalshop and a little welding, but she insisted she “had never been very good at either”. Perfect.
Well, in all seriousness, having a pilot could be a huge advantage. We still have fuel (after a fashion), might as well use it to travel around. The “HPI” didn’t seem to be flying north again, so it might be safe for all of us. I want to see if I can find my mother, my sister. I know Cloudy Skies doesn’t, but… maybe Joseph has someone he would like to look for too. We should have plenty of selection for planes.
I suggested this, and Moriah seems enthusiastic about the idea, wanting to check on her own family. I’m not sure how we’ll handle it yet; but no matter what I don’t want Cloudy at home alone. Of all of us, she’s the least able to defend herself. Maybe we can go in pairs, Moriah and one other pony, until everyone who wants to has tried. Of course, a few failures might alleviate the need for future trips. Here's to hoping whatever tanks store plane fuel were more airtight than my SUV.
I hope you’re still around, Mom. Maybe you’d be a regular pony, like me. Maybe you’d have a horn. God knows Jennifer would have some of those wings, couldn’t ever stop her from flying away.
Joseph and Oliver were pretty miffed about the way I left them. I couldn’t really argue; it had been stupid and selfish and I knew that. I just didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let my friends put themselves at risk. They’re all more important than me. I’m the only one with skills we can afford to sacrifice. We don’t need a generalist, but we sure as hell need a doctor.
Had a trump card, though. I’d saved that moment to tell everyone about the letter and the package. Everybody together, read the note, dumped out the communications device. Freakout.
I’ll spare the gory (boring) details of every pony’s reactions. Cloudy Skies and Oliver were both in favor of contacting them, the former almost immediately so. Joseph was on the fence, and Moriah wanted us to smash the communicator to pieces and burn the note, then check ourselves for anthrax.
Anthrax, seriously? They could’ve just hidden a bomb in the house if they wanted to kill us. Anthrax might not even work on ponies, anyway. Just because some pain meds seem to doesn’t mean anything else will.
In the end, we gave Joe the communicator to go over and check for safety. I figure if there is a hidden bomb, it would go off when we use the thing, so we’ll make sure nobody’s anywhere near the base when we call. It would be horrible to lose our home, but… I’d rather find out it’d been boobytrapped when it was empty then while we were all sleeping some night.
Eventually Joseph and Moriah came around to the idea, but only after we promised to convert another RV and pack both with the supplies needed to make it on the road. If the call went south, we could be on the road and leave everything behind. Moriah didn’t seem to realize that neither Sky nor me would be willing to leave the flock behind, but I didn’t point that out and neither did Sky. At that point we just wanted her to shut up.
Oh, she’s got clothes now. Shorts, like me. Wants me to make her horseshoes, the “epoxy on kind”, because “she’s a horse anyway so it’s not like she would take them off”. Whatever.
Joseph, I’m sorry I ever complained about you, I am. You were actually quite a reasonable stallion. Deplorable standards of personal hygiene, but that’s something else entirely.
Moriah, I know how hard it is to go through what you’re going through. I’ve been through it. My first week was the pits. Thought about throwing myself off skyscrapers a few times. Pretty sure if I hadn’t been alone I would’ve taken the opportunity to be happier about life, though. Maybe embarrassed that I was in a permanent horse costume, but still happier. It’s good to have friends. Do you want to be ours or not?
It isn’t like her precautions weren’t good ones. Our meeting resolved, we got to work. The medical truck would just be parked outside the fence, adding to our barricade, and wired into the power system for the house. We had already planned on adding a few more kilowatts, and the generator can probably handle the slack in the meantime. We’ll put a canopy up over the truck, get it out of direct sunlight, but not now.
Of course, my problems with gasoline, even though I didn't tell anyone, have brought the life of our fuel rushing to the front of my mind. What would we do without the standby generators? The heat of summer without air conditioners would be the least of our worries when we're reliant on such technological absurdities as atmospheric water extractors. Mid-term we'll have to switch to electric vehicles and solar panels, for the five to ten years their batteries hold a charge. Maybe longer, if we can get a warehouse full of replacements insulated from temperature swings. Long term though, we're going to need to switch to biofuels. Reduce our electricity demand, and use those old-timey generators (or maybe even something wood-fired, the ultimate in low-tech renewable fuel).
What did I do? Drive around the city with a dog and a crowbar, opening up the holding tanks of gas stations. Pretty well sealed, these puppies, but I wanted one with some particular features. One with a full diesel tank, or as close to full as possible. One with one of those cone-drain things on the inside to get the water out without me having to interfere. Took me awhile, but this is Los Angeles and there are thousands of gas stations. Found one eventually. Topped it up with our fuel truck (basically draining it), and then in went my SECRET WEAPON (TM). Actually, the Department of Defense's secret weapon.
We found it during our adventure in that Air Force base, not too long ago. Fuel Stability Foam. According to the package, it says it'll preserve diesel for ten years. TEN YEARS! Given I didn't put this stuff in on day one, and we're in California here, I give a more reasonable estimate at maybe half that. Still, we don't even really need it to last that long. We're not staying in LA for five years.
So that was my adventure. The others put together the house, got the truck plugged in, all that. Just getting it into the system went a long way to keeping Oliver happy. Keeping those drugs intact has been almost an obsession for him over these last almost-two months. I wonder how much more gardening he’ll be able to do with that worry taken care-of.
Oliver’s pretty laid-back about most things. We don’t have any more bedrooms, but he doesn’t mind sharing with Joseph. It was a kid’s room anyway, and that unicorn never bothered removing the other twin-sized bed, so it’s already set up for two ponies. Human beds are so gigantic we could probably share even smaller ones, but we won’t push it. Having to “grid-up” another house would be an incredible pain, and split our resources in ways we probably don’t want to do.
Figure if we get many more ponies we’ll turn the master into a “dorm” of sorts, fill it with Ikea bunk-beds. Maybe turn part of the basement into more sleeping areas. We could probably do as many as 15 ponies in this house, though we wouldn’t be able to meet all their needs. Water, specifically. Composting toilets can’t handle that many people per day as it turns out, not to mention showers. I honestly don’t think we’d get more from atmospheric water even if we wanted to. Maybe if we lived in Florida or Missouri, but we don’t.
It’s a good thing this isn’t our long-term place. But if it’s not… where will we go? Is the country way less safe than we thought? Will our future colony be attacked by HPI jets and ransacked by mysterious beings? Not to mention… of all the ponies who stayed behind, there had to be a few that were crazy or criminal, right? Or… who might be driven to that, if they were in an area without much food. How long before ponies like that become a problem? Are there even enough ponies in the whole world for that to matter?
Right, the agenda. After our brief meeting I picked out another RV (also diesel, also an automatic transmission because proles), and put in the hand-pedal things while the others started loading supplies. It’s funny how many vehicles we’re gathering around our little compound. I wonder if the HPI can look at satellite cameras of all the stuff we’re doing. I wonder if they care to.
Tomorrow we’ll make the call, and see what these “HPI” ponies are really about. I’ll probably use my computer to record the whole thing, so we don’t miss anything that might be significant later. Our first chance to talk to a group that’s apparently this powerful should not be squandered, that’s for sure.
Assuming they’re even still a group. I haven’t ruled out sentient computer program. Maybe it has drones it can use to ransack a pony’s house and write notes "by hand." I wonder what it wanted with all that nuclear crap. Maybe it will tell us tomorrow.