“Speaking of plans and figuring, what’ve you got, Thom?” J.T. had finally settled down again, a mug of coffee sitting on the ground next to his knee. He’d claimed Thom’s stick for poking the fire and was keeping an eye on the flames, though he was looking at Thom now.
“Defenses first,” Thom said, taking out his sketchpad. “We at least need a wall of some kind before we start building more than one or two semi-permanent shelters. The tents for the moment keep the weather out and keep us pretty warm. It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing people marauding and trying to take whatever the hell anyone else has managed to scrape together. I was thinking we could use the chain link fences that’re coming apart all over the place and maybe some of the rebar from that construction site on south campus as a skeleton, then lay either the broken cinderblocks or pour some concrete to make our walls.” He frowned at his sketchpad as he flipped through the pages. “Maybe both.”
“You’re saying defenses should come before shelter, Thom?” Jacqueline frowned a little. “We can’t live in these tents all winter. What happens if it comes faster than we anticipate?”
“There were tribes that managed that for centuries,” Tala said quietly. I winced, uncertain whether that was an argument for or against Thom’s suggestion.
Thom grimaced. “I guess I have to hope that it doesn’t. I just…I’ve got a few more things I want to think about before we start putting up any…well. Any houses.”
“Like digging a well?”
He smiled weakly at Matt. “That’s one of the things on the list, yeah. I’m guessing you figured out how deep we need to go?”
My brother’s gesture suggested that he had only sort of figured out the answer to that question. “Could be anywhere as deep as maybe fifteen or twenty feet. It’ll be a bitch to dig, especially after we hit clay, but it’s possible.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “Before we start building anything, you and Davon and I need to set the grid.” He glanced toward Tala. “You can help with that, right? And what’s her name?”
“Deirdre, and yes, we can help with that,” Tala said. She looked at Thom. “What were you working on for the shelters that you don’t have ready yet?”
I didn’t often see Thom uncomfortable, but in the face of Tala’s question, he looked down at his sketchbook, open to a page with a maze of what looked like pipes or ductwork, surrounded by notes scribbled in his characteristic scrawl. He stared at it for a few long moments, then cleared his throat quietly. “I’d rather—” I wrapped my hand around his and squeezed. He took another breath. “I’d rather us all have a centrally heated floor when we start putting these things up, that’s all,” he said, sounding unsteady at first. “I just have to figure out how to make it work, that’s all.” He stared at the sketch. “I think I might be close, but it’s not ready yet.”
Not ready yet because you’re not sure it’s going to work, or not ready yet because it’s not perfect? I wondered. I squeezed his hand again.
“That makes sense,” Davon said. “I don’t envy you sorting out that one, Thom, but good call.”
Thom nodded. “Right now I’m not envying me, either, but it seemed like the right thing to try to do.”
Rory fed another stick into the fire as thunder began to growl in the distance. “Sounds like something we’d need more supplies for.”
“Probably,” Thom agreed. “Almost definitely. But that’s not something we can do until whatever weather’s coming has passed and I have to sort out a list of what we’ll need anyway.” He rubbed his hand over his eyes.
“About that,” I said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea that we have so many people away from here during the day. We should probably limit that number, keep a set number of people here at any given time. Maybe keep a dozen or ten people here at all times, not counting Thom or Dr. Doyle.”
“We don’t count why?” Greg asked.
Thom laughed. “Because if you put you and I together, you might get a whole, functioning human being.”
At least he can laugh about that.
The others laughed, too. Thom squeezed my hand and smiled at me. I smiled back.
“Oh,” Greg said. “Well, when you put it that way, I guess it’ll make sense.”
“See?” I smiled and leaned toward the fire a little. “It’s about us being prepared for—”
Lightning lit the world and thunder shook everything, right down to the marrow of our bones. The strike had been close, too close. Someone screamed.
My world suddenly went dark.
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