We hurried down stairs, working together as we banged the loaded hand truck to the lobby and then out the front doors to the parking lot. There were only a few people outside of the dorm, but they all had the same idea as us "Get out of dodge". Cars were starting up with two or three people inside and not much else heading who knows where.
After tossing everything in the back, we hopped about. "Where to?" I asked Chuck.
"The Applied Sciences Building"
The Applied Sciences building was part of a new Engineering annex built over the past few years. It was a large modern structure seemingly out of place with the other, more traditional buildings on campus. It was only about five minutes from my dorm so getting there wasn't a problem. As I was not in Engineering, I never bothered with the place but knew that Chuck spent most of his free time there.
"Pull around back in the alley behind the building" directed Chuck. I did, and we parked between two dumpsters near the rear entrance.
"Do you have a car cover for the truck?"
Of course I did. My dad gave me one to protect his baby as he still liked to refer to the Beast. I rolled it over the truck after we had removed all our gear (and my shotgun case) from behind the folding bench seat.
"C'mon" said Chuck. Between the hand truck and Curtis and I loaded up like a couple of sherpas, we managed to get inside the side entrance of the building.
Chuck led us down one hallway then another before we banged down a flight of stairs to a metal door. Once opened, we found ourselves in a large carpeted room full of couches and dominated by a row of three, glass faced vending machines on one wall and two joined doors on the opposite.
"This is the study lounge. I spend a lot of time down here" said Chuck.
We crossed the room to the other side where there was a plain metal door without a knob, only a key hole. Chuck produced a key chain with about twenty or thirty keys on it and like a custodian, picked out one and unlocked the door. Inside was a staircase leading downstairs. We followed Chuck, handtruck, duffles and all down the stairs to yet another plain metal door. Another key and we found ourselves inside a large cube shaped room finished with concrete floors, large columns and with a small door on the opposite side.
"What is this place Chuck?" I asked.
"This is the entrance to the steam tunnels under this building and which run under the whole school. I stocked up this place yesterday and last night in case my brother wasn't pulling my leg. Drop everything and come back upstairs with me" Chuck said as he opened up a cardboard box of plastic contractor sized trash bags and grabbed a handful out.
We went back upstairs and Chuck pulled out his keyring and went to the first vending machine. It was one of those kinds with a glass front so you could see all the snack food inside. Chuck inserted a small key into the lock and opened the door.
"Wicked!" said Curtis. "Free snackage for all!"
"Where did you get the key, Chuck?" I asked.
"Made it, just like the rest. I'll tell you about it later but for now, start loading up everything into these bags" he said as he went to the next two machines. We hurredly packed chips, cookies, candy bars and bottled water and soda from the three machines into the trash bags. It was then the lights flashed once and went off. We were in near darkness with the exception of a row of emergency lights powered by batteries which lined the ceiling.
It was also then that I realized I had neglected to phone my sister or parents to let them know where I was and see how they were. When I took out my phone, i saw it was dead, not our of range or powered off, but deader than a doornail.
"Chuck, let me see your phone?"
Chuck pulled his out and saw his was the same.
"Curtis, do you have yours?"
Curtis fumbled around with the pockets on his shorts before answering "Nope, I must have left mine downstairs"
"We'll check it out when we get down there" said Chuck. "But I think this is what I told you about earlier, Mike, the effects of an EMP burst"
While we grabbed the loaded bags from the vending machine and worked them down the stairs, Chuck explained the theory behind an electro-magnetic pulse and how it might effect unshielded electronics like cell phones and modern cars. THis was the reason he wanted to make sure my truck was available now and afterwards I assumed. If there was an afterwards.
When he reached the basement, it was pitch black as there was only one emergency light in the stairwell. With the door open, Chuck said went to the far corner.
"Hold the door open while I do something".
Mike rattled around in the corner of the underground room and soon it was illuminated by a string of LED lights across the ceiling.
"Wow, Christmas" said Curtis
I dropped my bags and demanded Curtis' phone. He found it next to his disorganized pile of stuff on the floor.
Curtis latest generation iPhone powered right up, but there were no bars on the signal strength. I went back into the hallway and then back up the stairs to the lounge and looked again - no bars. I was about to go up the stairs and outside when Chuck stopped me.
"Mike, don't go outside. If that was an EMP burst then real bombs may be falling soon. They may already have fallen on Houston or Austin and if so, there might be fallout"
"Chuck, my parents and sister are in Virginia. I need to know if they are alright. I have to warn them to take shelter..."
"Mike, it's going to be fine. Right now I think your parents and sister would be concerned if you were alright. Let's get downstairs and situated. I have a radio down there and if anything has happened, we will know before going off half cocked".
I put my head down and walked back to the doorway downstairs.