1 The Hive
Mt. Timpanogos, Ute Territory
Lance held his radio up to his lips, as he spoke into it, “Charlie Two-Two, this is Bluebird Five, come in over.” After he made his call, he stood there calmly, and gave a desired look upwards towards the top of the mighty mountain in front of him.
“Bluebird Five, this is Charlie Two-Two, go ahead.” The words popped and crackled through the handheld radio’s speaker, bringing the once dormant device to life.
“Charlie Two-Two, this is Bluebird Five, we are approaching Broadway, asking clearance for entry, over,” Lance eagerly responded.
“Bluebird Five, this is Charlie Two-Two, hold one for clearance. Towers Fifty-One, Fifty-Two, do you copy?”
“Tower Fifty-One copies.”
“Tower Fifty-Two copies.”
“Bluebird Five, this is Charlie Two-Two, you are cleared to enter Broadway over,” there was a pause in the conversation before Charlie Two-Two finished, “welcome back brother.”
After snowing all night, the clouds faded and allowed the morning sun to hang triumphantly in the crisp clear sky. Only a handful of clouds remained, and those that did were merely wisps, no more than brush strokes of white across a sapphire sky. As anyone knows, however, such beauty comes at a cost, for nothing in this life is free anymore.
The cost to be able to see the sun this time of year was plummeting temperatures, which even at their peak during the day still hovered around near freezing. The type of cold which could bring pain to exposed skin, and overall discomfort to the human body. That was what life had become now, constant pain and discomfort, cold temperatures or not.
“Clear as a bell, cold as hell,” Vance said, the words forced out like a grunt as he placed the binoculars back on the rock next to him. The sound he made was a mixture of a laugh and a frustrated sigh, as they added a soundtrack to his displeasure.
Lon half turned his head to snatch a glimpse of his overwatch partner as he cupped his hands and blew warm air into the void between them. “What?” Lon asked.
Vance just shook his head, “It was something my dad would always say. How, when there were no clouds, it was guaranteed to be a cold day.”
Lon didn’t respond, just nodded as he glanced skyward. It was a beautiful view, he thought. From their position, at Tower Fifty-One, an elevation of over fifty-five hundred feet up, more than halfway up Mt. Timpanogos, they had a celestial view. On such a clear day as this, the visibility approached limitless, obscured only by the curvature of the Earth itself.
If it wasn’t for the mountain in front of them, they could most likely see the Great Salt Lake as well as downtown Salt Lake City. Unfortunately though, there was a monumental mountain blocking their view. They were not up there for sightseeing anyhow, they were up there for security. Most of the beauty of the famed city had been dimmed since the blackout, leaving virtually nothing to see, even if their view was unobstructed.
The once beautiful and thriving city, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, was now just like every other post-blackout metropolis. Life had been sucked out of it, lights had been dimmed or extinguished completely. Now those still living, either by the grace of God or as a punishment depending on the perspective, struggled to get by each day. Though compared to most cities in the West, Salt Lake did seem to fair a little better than most. One aspect had to do with the fact that it was occupied by Chinese forces instead of Russian, and the second was that the leaders of the cities, as well as the citizens in the Salt Lake Valley, were able to form a symbiotic relationship with their new host. An agreement had been reached between the leaders of the Salt Lake City territory and the Chinese official who would be conducting military operations within the region. This agreement had saved hundreds of thousands of lives as well as ensured the survival of key local infrastructures which continued to assist the people of the Salt Lake Valley.
The difference between being occupied by the Chinese, compared to that of the Russians, was that the Russians only think they are better than the Americans, while the Chinese knew they are. This might seem like semantics, but the difference could be life or death. The Russians only thought they were better, thus they had a constant need to prove that they were, always pushing their power and strength upon the beleaguered civilians. While the Chinese, in their minds at least, knew that they were better and thus did not trifle with such subjugation. In the simplest form, the Russian was the bully of the neighborhood who, in private, feared his own shadow and always felt he needed to prove he was the strongest. While China was the winning quarterback who dated the prom queen, he knew he was the best and felt no need to prove it. The self-assurance that the Chinese Government had, allowed those under their rule to live more freely than those under the iron thumb of the Russians. At least as freely as one can while under occupation in their own land.
“Here they come,” Lon said, as he could see the weary travelers walking up the main road, Broadway.
Back when America was free and this area was alive, the street now referred to as Broadway, was actually Utah State Highway 92 and was the main road into Mt. Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Now it was the fist of many choke points to protect the base camp of one of the largest resistance groups west of the Rockies.
The camp itself was referred to as the Hive, those who resided there were simply called the Members. Despite its size and its number of Members, it was one of the best-kept secrets. Even fellow resistance fighters outside of the Salt Lake Valley had no clue as to its true location, nor the number of its residents. Its anonymity was one of its greatest assets. It allowed the Members to work with more impunity of action. They could strike without fear of reprisal. They had outposts located throughout the Salt Lake Valley, and each outpost stayed in constant contact with one another as well as the Hive. This allowed them to strike quickly and then, just as quickly, melt back into the surrounding landscape around them before being noticed. All of this organization took a lot of work, it wasn’t easy to hide in plain sight. The leaders at the Hive had devised multiple forms of communication with their outpost, but still the most reliable was that of face to face. Thus the reason for the visit from the six Members who walked down Broadway.
Lance looked up towards the old power lines which still draped from one mountain ridge to the other, as they stretched out across Broadway. Most of the white and orange marker balls, once so vigilantly wrapped themselves around the power lines, had fallen off or were in dire need of being painted. Those that remained wore a muted tone, gone was the vibrant reflective orange. If it wasn’t for such a crisp blue sky, they would nearly be invisible. “I’ll never forget the first time I came here, I was just a little older than you,” he said when he looked over at Brendon his thirteen-year-old nephew.
“My mom said it was too hard to hike, that’s why we never came,” Brendon said as he craned his head skyward trying to see the peaks of the mountains above. Externally his eagerness to commence the climb was on full display, internally though, the shear size of the task seemed nearly impossible.
Lance chuckled, as he remembered how his sister had been. She had no problem walking around for hours if it involved shopping, but the moment that grass or dirt touched one of her overly priced shoes, she would flip out. “Yeah, your mom wasn’t much of an outdoorsy type. I could tell you some great stories about when we were kids and my dad, your Grandpa Mac, would take us deer hunting,” Lance reflected.
Brendon shot a quick glance over towards his Uncle, “My mom hunting? Like outdoors hunting, not hunting for a great sale?”
“Like blood on her hands, and dirt on her boots kind of hunting,” Lance quickly answered back as another laugh escaped, “But trust me, it didn’t last long.”
“What happened? Why did she stop?” Brendon asked as he tried to shift the weight of his backpack. The straps of the pack had been digging into his shoulders for the past hour. With the hike up the mountain still to go, he wanted to do whatever he could to help alleviate some of the pain.
The smile faded from Lance’s face as he thought about the question. The memories snuck in like a thief, and snatched away his smile and replaced it with a sinking feeling in his gut. He tried to form the words to explain what had happened, but in the end, the only words he could manage was two simple ones, “Your dad.”
This time Brendon didn’t shoot back with another question. The answer smothered him, drowning all his thoughts before they could even form. He too could only assemble the simplest of responses as he muttered, “Oh,” then lowered his head as he kicked some small rocks that laid helpless on the worn strip of abandoned highway.
Lance looked down at his nephew, noticing the change in demeanor. He always felt bad for his nephew, felt that Brandon always seemed to be on the short end of everything. It was that reason he made a point to invite him on this trip to the Hive. Lance looked upwards in the direction of where he knew one of the towers were located, then nudging Brendon, “Do you see them?”
Brendon looked up, his eyes frantically scanning the snow capped tree tops. Occasional boulder or rock outcropping would peak out from under the blanket of snow. Besides that, there was nothing unique or seemingly out of place. Finally, unsure of what he was even looking for, he turned back to his Uncle and replied, “No, what am I looking at.”
Lance knelt down a little, then pointed making sure to be close to Brendon, allowing his nephew a chance to follow the line of his hand and index finger. “Straight up there is Tower Fifty-One,” Lance said then pivoted around and pointed in the same manner towards the mountain ridge on the opposite side of Broadway, “Just up there is Tower Fifty-Two. They are the first line of defense for entering the Hive.”
Brendon stood there a moment, rotating his head from one location to the next and back again. Finally he replied, “I don’t see anything.”
Lance let out a light laugh, not in a mocking manner, but one of pleasure in the boy’s innocence. He then stood back up and began to walk towards their destination once again. After a few steps he looked down at his nephew and answered, “That’s the whole point. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they were easy to see.”
They continued the rest of the way to the abandoned National Park’s main office in silence. Focusing more on the task at hand, tabling their conversation for now. At one time, this office would welcome guests, inform them about the dangers of the hike and provide a simple explanation of it all. Now, it was not much more than another abandoned building, which offered little more than shelter from out of the cold. Not that the shelter offered was unwanted, especially now as temperatures were continuing to fall. However shelter was not its primary attribute, it was a connection to the nearby natural spring. The fresh water provided at this location was one of the life-giving components of the Hive and the surrounding landscape.
“How far is it?” Brendon asked as the team started on the trail, his body already fearing the oncoming trail of pain and fortitude.
Lance paused for a moment as he finished putting one of the freshly filled canteens into his pack. Once secured, he stood and swung his pack onto his back before he started up the trail. After two steps he looked back at Brendon who was still waiting for an answer. “If you are already asking how long it’s going to be, you might just want to stay here,” Lance replied.
This little jab spurred Brendon into action. “I’m good. Just wondering, that’s all,” he said as he tried to force out a light laugh, in between heavy pulls of fresh air into his lungs.
Lance fidgeted around with the straps on his pack, trying to get the weight centered. The hike, though technically on a paved trail, was still a difficult one. After about twenty minutes on the trail, Lance finally tossed an answer over his shoulder towards his nephew, “From the Parks office back there, to the actual entrance is right around one and a half miles.” He paused to take a look down the trail, always scanning for hidden trouble. Once he felt safe he continued, “We’ll climb over a thousand feet in elevation during that time. Overall, it typically takes about one and half hours getting to the top, but that’s when the weather is nice.”
The weather they were battling was not nice. Icy winds raced through the narrow canyons, stretching its frigid tendrils out along the way, scraping the mountainsides and attacking anyone who might be foolish enough to be on them. This hike was taxing during good conditions, but with the recent snow, ice had snuck in and was hidden within the shadows of the trail, causing a hazard that could be life-threatening.
Sections of the trail were in dire need of repair, parts of the safety rail were damaged or just missing. Then there was the recent rock slides, making some of the original trail nearly impassable. Despite the available manpower, nothing was done to fix these issues. It was an unanimous feeling that any maintenance on the path would indicate life, and that would draw unwanted attention towards those seeking refuge within the Hive. Therefore, the typical hiking time of one and a half hours was now stretched out to something closer to two agonizingly slow hours. The difficulties created by the tattered trail was just another layer of defense against those who might try to attack the Hive. Along with the towers, there were eighteen other armed positions and the carefully placed IED’s along the way. When it came down to it, no one was going to get into the Hive, unless the Members wanted them to. Even the sky above was manned and surveyed.
Finally, after nearly two hours of the thigh burning, oxygen-sucking hike, the six-person group reached the entrance to the Hive. Once used as the main entrance to let tourists into the first set of caves, the Hansen Cave, it was now the fortified portal into the secret that was the Hive.
They were a good fifty yards away from the covered entrance when three armed guards stepped out of seemingly thin air, appearing where once no one was. This unexpected appearance of the three sentinels caused Brendon to stop immediately in his tracks.
Lance looked over at his nephew, a smile wrapped across his face, “I told you, we have been under constant surveillance since before we started on the trail.”
“I didn’t see them at all,” Brendon answered back quickly, a sense of amazement enveloped his words.
“Just because you can’t see a threat doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist,” Lance answered in a tone which indicated the importance of the message.
One of the three armed men stepped forward and, in a joking tone, called out, “I didn’t know that Bluebirds could fly this high during the winter! I thought you weren’t due up here until spring?”
Lance smiled as he extended his right hand towards the man, “Someone has to make sure you Mountain Boys know how to start the heaters and not freeze to death.”
The armed man laughed a hearty chuckle, a laugh that overfilled his whole body as it spilled out onto those around him. He took Lance’s hand in his, “Good to see you, brother.”
“Good to see you too Zeke,” Lance replied, then nodded towards Brendon, “Do you remember my nephew?”
“No way,” Zeke said, as he turned from Lance towards the young man standing just a few feet away. “This is Baby Brendon?” Zeke asked as he chuckled a little, “Man, you were a chubby baby. Looks like you’ve grown up!”
Brendon just smiled and pushed out a quiet, “Yeah,” before he continued to scan the mountainsides. He wondered how what else was hidden within his eyesight. How many more were watching them, their guns ready to attack if necessary.
Zeke let out a laugh, then turned back to Lance, “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but you’ve got me concerned. Seriously, what are you doing way up here? Did they move up the meeting?”
Lance readjusted his pack again. For the last half hour, the straps had seemed to dig their way into his skin and now were resting on raw bone. His face made a slight grimace as blood rushed to the painful area on his shoulders. “No, I received some troubling news coming out from Camp Zion. News I felt needed to be passed on to Brother Ben in person. Is he here?” Lance asked.
“Yep,” Zeke said as he adjusted the rifle sling on his shoulder. Then turning towards the entrance he got on his handheld radio, “Charlie Two-Two, this is Mountain One-One, Bluebird Five has arrived, over.”
“Copy Mountain One-One. Bluebird Five has landed, over,” the unknown operator responded over the radio, their voice quickly being snatched up by the wind before being tossed out along the snow covered rocks.
Zeke reached the sturdy metal door and gave it a strong yank open. The door, seemingly as old as the mountain itself, it was as solid as they came and could be locked from the inside. It was just another layer of protection that helped encase the Hive. He held onto the handle and stepped aside as he allowed the others to enter first.
As the others started to walk in Zeke looked down at Brendon, the last one to enter, “Welcome to the Hive little man.” Now standing on the outside, and the door shut, he keyed his handheld one more time and quickly relayed his status into the communicator, “Charlie Two-Two, Hive is secure. Mountain One-One, heading back to post, over.”
“Copy Mountain One-One,” the voice over the radio responded.
Once Zeke closed the sturdy metal door, the new arrivals were literally left in the dark. It was a good thirty-seconds that the six of them stood there in a space of about ten feet long by six feet wide. A thick steel door shut behind them, and another solid steel door stayed latched in front of them.
All six of them waited in the confined sally port, all while in utter darkness. Rock walls raised over twenty feet high all around them, ending in a jagged rock ceiling. The air was damp and cool, and there was a thin layer of moisture that rested upon the rock walls, causing droplets of water to occasionally fall to the floor. Soon a squeaking noise could be heard on the other side of the door in front of them. Followed by a few scraping sounds, as latches were being moved aside. Finally, the door swung open, allowing fresh air to rush into the space.
A lean young woman stepped into the void created by the open door, as she held a propane lantern. Her figure was silhouetted by an amber glow that radiated behind her. She held the lantern up towards her face, allowing the gas light to softly embrace her ebony skin. “Welcome, welcome,” she said in a smooth, assuring voice. The type of voice that was fit for giving guided tours or assisting people on the phone.
“Hey Callie, good to see you again darling,” Lance said as he leaned in and gave her a hug.
Callie held the lantern in her right hand, as she leaned into the hug, using her left arm to embrace Lance. She then leaned back, stood upright and stepped aside allowing Lance and the others to walk into the first part of the actual Hive. “Glad to see y'all here,” Callie said with her typical Southern charm. “We were just getting ready to eat, if you want to head to the grand hall,” she paused to turn towards Lance, “all except you, Brother Ben wants a word.”
Lance slightly bowed his head and extended his right arm as he said, “Lead the way, my lady.”
“There’s my southern gentleman,” Callie said with a smile as she started to lead Lance down a different section of the Hive.
“Texas, ma’am,” Lance said back, tossing the words lightly towards Callie.
Callie turned her head slightly back towards Lance as she walked, “Texas is in the South, you know.”
Lance laughed. “Texas is well, Texas. We’re kind of unique,” he stated with a hint of pride.
The conversation died down as the two of them maneuvered their way through the mountain to the Hive. Despite years of work expanding the caverns, prior to the Blackout, there were still many sections within Mt. Timpanogos that were extremely restrictive. In this particular section people had to walk in a single file line to make it to their final destination.
After about ten minutes of making their way back into the depths of the mountain, they reached their goal, the heart of the mountain. Five hundred feet of solid rock protected this room which had been methodically expanded from its original size. At its center a huge stalactite seemed to pulse with light. The work had been done mostly in secret, unbeknownst to the public or the majority of the National Parks Services for that matter. It was all done with detailed precision to ensure the integrity of the structural foundation. The natural encasement shielded them from every basic type of outside intrusion, thus the ideal spot of the heart of any clandestine operation.
“Brother Ben,” Lance said as he ducked under and around the stalactite which hung from the cave's ceiling.
Brother Ben finished up his conversation with one of the operators before turning towards Lance, “Good to see you again. Hope you have some good news for me.”
“I have news, don’t think you’ll consider it good,” Lance answered back as he shook Brother Ben’s extended hand.
Brother Ben was a man of average height, average build and overall average looks as well. He had thick brown hair, which had a soft natural wave to it, like water that rippled over a thin layer of rocks. His hair was long overdue for a proper cut, as it hung down to his shoulders. If he could grow a proper beard, it too would be thick and full, however, he was only blessed with short curly facial hair, which grew in thin patches. Though he might not have looked the part, everyone that followed his lead knew that if it wasn’t for him, there would be no Hive, and those enjoying the comfort and safety of its protection would most likely already be dead.
Before the lights went out, he was a partner in one of the wealthiest law firms in the Salt Lake Valley. Then one year before the power was lost, he packed up everything, sold his portion of the partnership and walked away from it all. Once a mainstay at most social events, he seemingly disappeared, and the few times he did show up, he was practically unrecognizable. Gone were his custom tailored suits and hundred dollar haircuts, now off the rack camping clothes covered his body, and his hair typically hung freely from underneath his weathered Bees baseball cap. Some referred to him as Noah, building the Hive before the blackout, just as Noah had built the ark before the rains. But most just called him Brother Ben. “How bad is it?” Brother Ben asked.
Lance scratched his chin as he stalled, hoping that the correct words would somehow break free in his mind during the momentary grooming. The best he could come up with was, “Not good.”
“Ha,” Brother Ben let out a laugh as he placed his hands on his hips, “I kind of figured that much. Considering you trekked up all this way to tell me about it.” He turned to head to his desk. As he walked he continued to talk, throwing the words over his shoulder towards Lance, “The little that I got is that the Russians came in from St. George. Pushed our people right on out.”
“I got the same,” Lance confirmed. He paused as he walked over to an empty chair off to the side. He slowly lowered himself down onto it, letting out a big sigh as he finally relieved some of the weight off of his legs and feet. His feet throbbed in ecstasy after finally being relieved of their duty. “When are you going to install an elevator or something? I’m getting too old for these hikes,” Lance complained.
“I will have to put that on me to do list,” Brother Ben answered back with a smile. Then not giving Lance any time to relax he asked, “What else did you get? You wouldn’t be here if that’s all you had.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Lance started. “Like you said, the Russians came in from St. George and pushed the Zion Camp right on out. Now they are on the run, low on everything from food, to water, ammo and moral. I’ve made contact with Butch, the leader of the Zion group, as well as some of our other units about meeting up if they can. Nothing has been finalized yet, but we do have supplies being put together and a tentative rendezvous. I wanted to get your okay first before I pushed the go button on this operation.”
Brother Ben started to pace back and forth as he thought it over. “Okay, so what’s the holdup? Why are you hesitant about sending a rescue?” He asked as he removed his tattered Salt Lake City Bee’s baseball cap and ran his hand through his thick hair. He then looked over at Lance, “I know you, and the only reason you would hesitate on such a mission is if something big came up. So what is it?”
Lance sat there a moment as he picked at a faded stain on his pant leg. Then looked up towards Brother Ben, “Something peculiar came about.”
“Peculiar? Peculiar strange, or peculiar dangerous?” Brother Ben asked, his attention now teased and placed at the foot at Lance.
“A little of both, or maybe not, it’s the whole reason I’m here,” Lance responded. Lance placed his hands on his knees and looked up towards Brother Ben who had inched even closer towards him. “We already knew about the additional guests that Zion had taken in, but this new one, well, it could literally blow us out of the water,” Lance added and looked down one last time at the stain on his pants, unsure of how it got there. He picked at it for another second then finally he looked directly into the eyes of Brother Ben and simply asked, “What do you know about nuclear submarines?”