2012 Chapter 6
Day 2, 0635
Sam sat in the copilot's seat, gazing out the windows. Every few minutes she would do a scan of the instrument panel, checking heading, speed and altitude. So far, the airship was behaving very well. The air had calmed down drastically after the passing of the shockwave, and she easily maintained course and speed. Above her the sky steadily lightened, and the first rays of sunlight appeared on the horizon to the east. She judged their position to be some 5 miles off the new coast. Down below it was still pretty dark, hiding the vast debris field below.
Behind her, George lay sprawled in the plush seats. Roger was lightly snoring beside her in the pilots seat, while George shuddered once in a while. Probably reliving the sights and sounds of yesterday. She was glad that he'd begun to look at the situation as one of survival, as Roger and she had right from the beginning. As she'd learned for real life experience, reinforced by the survival course she'd taken, keeping your shit together was more than half the battle. She remembered the first question her instructor had asked her trainee group.
He had stood at the podium and looked out at them, shaking his head. A fairly short guy, he was dressed in an old set of OD battle dress, (long since replaced by the camo BDUs in most military units) and looked like he'd seen his fair share of rough spots. He'd introduced himself as Gunnery Sergeant Conrad, U.S.M.C ret'd. To her friend Candace, he looked like a chubby gnome. Then, he'd just stood there, looking them all over. After looking at them for a few minutes and not saying a word, the tension was building nicely. Then he laughed.
"You are out for a walk in the boonies, and get turned around. You don't know where you are, or how to get back to where you came from." He told them. "What is the first thing you do when you realize you are now lost?"
He stood there looking at them, expecting at least one person to speak up. Finally one did.
"I'd start back tracking to see if I could recognize where I'd been before." A young man replied.
The instructor looked around, hoping for someone else to speak up. Finally a girl looked up at him and said she'd be trying real hard not to break down and scream and run off in any direction.
He smiled. "I see that one of you has a clue. Now what would you do, miss? You are headed in the right direction. Flesh it out. What would you do to keep from losing it?"
"I don't know. Sit down. Hell, I don't know. That's why I'm here. To find out." She answered.
"Good answer. But think about it some more. You are sitting in the bush alone, and afraid. How do you combat that fear? How do you get hold of you emotions and put them to work to make sure you survive?"
The class looked at each other and back to the instructor. None of them said anything and some of them even shrugged their shoulders. Completely stumped. Finally Sam decide to give it a shot. "If I smoked, I'd light one up. Since I don't I think I'd try to build a fire."
"Because it would probably keep me occupied and from panicking. It would help calm me down and order my thoughts away from being scared shitless and towards thinking about things like where am I going to get something to eat or to drink. What am I going to do if those clouds over there turn grey and black and it starts to pour buckets. That sort of stuff. "
"Give the lady a ceegar. You got it in one. What you do first after making sure you are not in any immediate danger and that doing so would not endanger you, is to sit down and build a fire. Hell it doesn't matter if it's the middle of the day and hotter than hell. You build a fire. This does wonders for controlling your panic. Panic is the number one killer in a survival situation. Once you have that under control, the rest is knowledge and technique. Both of these you will learn over the next 7 days. You are going to eat, breath and sleep thinking about to stay alive. When those 7 days are up, we are going to go on a series of field trips to put theory into practice."
She smiled as she remembered that comment from the instructor. They spent the next 7 grueling days learning everything there was to know about survival in all terrains and conditions. They were given tests and exams and worked into the ground. Finally the class work was over and they met the next morning to climb aboard a group of vintage Korean War issue trucks the instructor called "deuce and a halfs". They climbed into the back and the canvas was drawn down so they couldn't see out. The old trucks started up and drove for a couple of hours into the hill country in upstate New York. When they got there they climbed out and started doing field work. At the end of the day, tired and ready for a good meal, they watched as the trucks took off without them. They started to ask what the hell was going on and their instructor gave them an evil grin.
"Welcome to the real world people! You are now all officially "lost". No one is going to come looking for us for the next 3 days..."
"What! You can't be serious! I didn't sign up for this. I want to go home! Now!" from one of the more useless students. (At least he was from Sam's point of view).
"No problem, son, you can start walking anytime you want. Do you know where you are?"
"No," rather sheepishly
"Well then, I guess you and all the rest of you are going to have to actually survive in field conditions for the next 3 days. Now, normally with small classes this is a solo event, but since there are so many of you, I'll allow partners if you want. That's all, you're all dismissed. By the way, it will be dark in another hour. Best get to it."
That was the beginning of a very interesting 3 days. Most of her classmates had hopped into the trucks with nothing more than street cloths on and little else. Only a few of them, herself included had cottoned onto the idea that this field trip might be a real test and not just more training. God knows the Sgt had let slip enough hints.
She and Candace has teamed up, and made it quite handily through the 3 days. A little grungy, a bit hungry, but otherwise in good shape. Sam had paid attention and read the hints he dropped. She made sure that Candace was also aware of the possibility of it being a long affair and they were both well prepared. Others, not so well. It rained on and off the last two days, and food was pretty scarce unless you knew what was edible or how to fish with no gear. The worst of them had not paid much attention to what Sgt Konrad had told them that they should always take when they went into a potential survival situation. This lack of attention cost them. Building shelters without even a knife could be a bitch. Figuring this might be a for real exercise, both she and Candace had gone out and purchased good sheath knives during the week and now wore them. Their clothing was also much more viable in the conditions they found themselves in, and they did ok.
Given an hour 'til dark, they set about building a shelter, on higher ground that the others. During the rain this paid off. The shelter wasn't completely waterproof but being up higher made sure they didn't have to sleep on soggy ground. They had found some cans and other junk left over from the hikers who had passed through the area, and managed to snag a couple of beer cans. With these and a knife, they were able to cut off one end and set them out to collect rain water.
The first night was dismal, and they were damp and hungry the next morning. They had collected some dry wood and tinder before dark and had kept it dry so making a fire was a lot easier for them. Sgt Conrad had (during a streak of tenderness no doubt) allowed them each a book of matches. Sam had gone one better and bought a box of kitchen matches and a candle. Using the candle, she'd waxed the match heads and had dry ones. The paper matches the others had carried had faired so well but they did manage to light once in a while.
Once they had the fire going, Sam set to making a fishing spear. The knives were once again priceless, and she and her friend took turns spearing trout in the stream a couple hundred yards away. Gutting them and spreading them butterfly style on a grill made of green sticks, they enjoyed the hot fresh fish.
There were a few others in the group who had also had the foresight to see this session coming and they also did fairly well. However, by the time the trucks came back for them, about 75% of their group were done with surviving and just longing to get home to a hot bath and food. As she sat watching the instruments, she wondered how the people from her class were making out in this chaos. As she looked back on all the good times she and Candace had had, the tears finally started to flow.