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The concept of the Intimidator was more for thrill than practicality—more log ride than grocery cart—though it quickly proved to be worthy of each purpose. The ride—turned conveyor belt—operated on a pulley system. When one tether was descending the other tether came up on a parallel line. One day Danny attached a bundle of supplies to one tether while Blake rode down the other side and the bag made it all the way up to the Big House—sure beat carrying them up the steep cliff path. Accidents can be the greatest inventions. That “invention” also allowed for a rapid evacuation should we ever need one.

Standing on the observation deck you were almost exactly one hundred feet above the ocean. Our island—Redemption—was mostly protected from the open Pacific by the privately owned Ni’ihau—the westernmost Hawaiian island. A major seismic shift several years ago had broken the southeastern tip off from the narrow Ni’ihau mainland, and the Bradys—Blake and Kaci—purchased it from Ni’ihau’s owners. When the oceanic plates finally came to rest, the main portion of Ni’ihau had slid two hundred yards north and sunk almost three hundred feet down into the ocean. Now a waterway—which we called the Discovery Channel—passed between our islands with a series of caves cut into Ni’ihau. Danny and Blake considered it the best spearfishing location they’d ever found, but it was also full of sharks with the same predator mentality. Only Trigger and Twix were crazy enough to join those two down there.

Most of Redemption’s perimeter was sheer cliffs. If we included the cliffs, our island would be nearly eighty acres, but only a third of it was habitable. We did have two sandy beaches though: a small one in our reef-protected cove—free of sharks—and a large one on the northernmost tip, about a ten-minute walk from the houses. The exact opposite of shark free.

Ni’ihau’s owners granted us access to their land for hunting and farming, since virtually none of our land was fit for either. We took a boat back and forth across the Discovery Channel, as necessary, for those purposes. Otherwise we mostly stayed here. We had enough to do here.

Sam was currently putting his architecture expertise to use helping Danny and Blake build a bunker/garage in a cave below Blake’s house. Given how significant bunkers and caves had been to our survival, no one even questioned the idea—or Sam’s methods. It actually would have seemed strange to not have one. Danny wanted a “vault”—somewhere to stockpile weapons, keep our ATV, and to serve as a storm cellar or potential hideout from Qi Jia. The lava rock wasn’t easy to work with, and creating a safe “driveway” down for the ATV was equally challenging, but I’d seen a lot of progress lately. They were getting there. A few more structural beams and a ladder-accessible escape hatch into Blake’s office above the cave and Sam declared it would be done.

Danny had weekly meetings in Kaneohe on Oahu, twenty miles east of Pearl Harbor. He was picked up by seaplane for those—a luxury I’m sure he appreciated. That half-hour, 150-mile flight sure beat the four-hour boat rides he used to endure.

Living out here, with an island to ourselves, was heavenly. It almost made us forget what brought us here in the first place. Almost. But not quite.

As I approached the front steps to the tree house and saw the rest of our governor-assigned security team—two Army Rangers—sitting in the shade around the radio, I knew exactly why they were here. I knew exactly why we were all here.

THREE – What We Knew (Ryan)

---------- (Wednesday. July 20, 2022.) ----------

Jake Hendricks and Royce Cotter both waved as I walked up—we called them Deacon and… well, Royce. “Anything new, guys?” I asked them that daily. As usual, Deacon had his Bible beside him and his guitar in his lap. Abbey was sitting next to him—with another guitar—apparently learning how to play a song. Royce was making coffee.

“No, sir,” Royce replied with a thick British accent. “All quiet.”

They didn’t need to call me sir. I’d done nothing to earn that distinction. My military experience was limited to buying Girl Scout cookies—which is to say none at all. But it was decorum for these guys, deserved or not. Royce had spent the first decade of his life in London—thus the accent—but lived in Colorado the next nine years before joining the Army. Visually he could have been a stunt double for Maroon 5’s front man, Adam Levine, with the tattoo sleeves, spiked black hair, and chiseled frame. Problem was he was tone deaf and an awful—terribly awful—singer. Deacon had all the musical talent. He also had a similarly deep accent—Southern or “hillbilly drawl”—though he denies it. He hardly ever spent even a day outside of Oklahoma, or a week off his ranch, until he turned twenty, at which point he too joined the Army. Royce was the brains. Deacon—a former rodeo hand—was the brawn. He even had a second nickname, Red Bull, given to him more for his temper than his energy level. But few people were allowed to call him that. Deacon’s brother, a legendary mixed martial arts fighter, had given him the nickname years ago. When his brother died in the attacks, the nickname mostly died with him. As far as I could tell, no one outside his military family used it anymore, and we respected that. Deacon and Royce had progressed to Rangers together, and they moved to the island with us a few months after Danny and Kate’s wedding—again, as assigned by the governor.

When we’d arrived in Hawaii and met Governor Barnes, America’s highest-ranked surviving government official—as far as anyone knew—he listened to the story of our epic journey from Minnesota to Hawaii. He took an instant liking to Danny and promoted him to captain, even though Danny had requested to be released from the military. Danny didn’t want to fight anymore, but he understood the value of his survival experience, and it didn’t take much for the governor to persuade him to stay on in an intelligence capacity.

On October 12 of last year, the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Qi Jia attacks, Governor Barnes called together all surviving military personnel, enlisted or retired, for a summit at the “new Pentagon”—the Hexagon. Blake, Dad and I went along with Danny, not sure if we’d be allowed in, but no one stopped us.

Of the 2,639 people still known to be alive on the islands, only ninety-six of them were military or law enforcement or had previous training and/or experience. Ninety-six people do not much of an army make. Were it not for the Shield—Hawaii’s high-tech defense system—Qi Jia would have easily overrun us long ago. Roughly five thousand miles from our nearest ally, Australia, we were essentially on our own out here. Most of our survivors were tourists who had been vacationing on the other islands, outside of Maui and Oahu—the islands less affected by the chemical blasts. Fewer than seven hundred of us escaped the mainland after the attacks, and only forty-two survivors had arrived since we did.

At that meeting it had become clear there were two distinct factions: the fighters and the strategists. The governor encouraged people to voice their own opinions and stand by their beliefs, regardless of their rank or assigned units. Right away that caused problems. Military troops don’t have the luxury of opinions. They will adopt their CO’s position 99.9 percent of the time. If not more. It was no different here.

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