“So if you folks will just follow me…” the FEMA representative waved his hand, then disappeared into the brush.
“Follow him?” Doc asked, with just an edge of suspicion.
Paul shrugged. “I dont see any other options at the moment. Let’s go.”
They caught up with the short, squat man. “So Chris… it’s Chris, right?”
“That’s right!” was the cheery response.
“How did FEMA know we were crashing here?”
“That’s our job, boys! We have to anticipate disasters now — Congress’ orders… and let me tell you, it aint easy! But we do what we can so we can get the job done!” he added with a wide grin.
“So… where are we?”
“We’re — here!” he answered as he spread his hands wide. “How’s this look, folks!” Stretched out before everyone was a clearing, pockmarked with exotic palms and other, less-identifiable flora, all set about rows of old blue-and-white trailers. “Now, we have double some of you up, but that shouldnt be too much of a problem, right?” He wagged a merry index finger. “Just no single co-ed folks! We dont want to leave here with more than we came with!” he laughed, as he reached into his pocket and took out a small sheaf of papers. “So, we’ll call your name out, and each o’ ya will be assigned a new home.”
Doc raised a tentative hand. “Excuse me?”
“I dont quite understand. Why bring these here? Why not just pick us all up and take us back to the mainland?”
“You kidding?” the man laughed heartily. “We’ve already moved on to the next disaster: a hurricane that’s hitting the coast in about three weeks. We got so much prep work to do there that we just didnt have time to think about taking you good folk back home.”
“But you are, right?”
“Of course we are!” the man smiled. “Now, let’s get you folks all squared away, shall we? Okay, Paul Anderson.” Paul’s hand raised. “Ah, good! Okay, we got you bunking with Frank… Frank-o-is…”
“It’s François,” Doc said. “That’s probably me.”
“It probably is! Okay, you boys take trailer number… well, isnt that odd.”
The man lightly shook his head. “It’s funny, but I keep seeing that number everywhere I look. Damn weird thing.”
Doc looked over the man’s shoulder at the clipboard. “Chris? It’s the number 1.”
“I know! Weird, aint it…” the man laughed again. “Maybe it means something.”
“Yes, that the next one is 2, right below it,” Doc said with no small edge to his voice. “Paul? You coming?” he shouted as he near-stormed to the trailer.
Paul raced to keep up with him. “Hey, c’mon, it’s not that bad. Sure beats the minimal stew training I had for things like this. I’d’ve had us making huts with palm fronds and stalks of bamboo,” he said as he opened the door to the slightly battered vehicle. Inside, there was a distinctly musty smell. “Hey, air this out a bit, and it’s gonna be okay!” Paul added brightly. It was about half the size of a regular single-wide, with bunk beds in the back that led straight through to the galley kitchen and a small sitting area.
Doc opened the cabinets and found plastic plates with a distinct design from the 1970s. “I guess they dont keep these things up to date much.”
“Or maybe they just thought we’d appreciate the retro touch,” Paul added with a grin. “Okay, we got some food in the larder — looks like freeze-dried stuff. A water-purification system. And the uglist wallpaper on the planet. Just like home.”
“But where’s home?”
“Where the hades are we?”
Paul sat in one of the chairs; a light cloud of dust floated as he did. “Well, we cant be too far from land. We were flying pretty much along the coast. An hour out would put us probably somewhere off New Jersey.”
“I dont know about you, but that sure doesnt look like New Jersey out there.”
“Well, got me, ace. Maybe we got further than I thought and we’re actually off Florida. That’d make more sense…. ‘Course, that plane would have to be barreling along — and Oceanic Air aint known for its speedy delivery — but hey, anything’s possible! Hey, look, a radio! Think it works?” Not waiting for a response, Paul flicked it on. There was static, rising and falling as he scanned the band. “C’mon, we should be picking up something!” Then, faintly: a voice. “What’s this?”
Doc listened a bit, then shut it off. “FEMA instructions. In French.”