Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The observation tower runs up through a hollow tree. Not sure which was here first, but it sure looks real. From the top, you can see damn near to the horizon in all directions.
A view which is, no matter where you look, shades of green spotted with the occasional gap or tall ruin. Makes me wonder why they put it in. Unless you like watching treetops, the only early warning you could get is of attack by aircraft or giants. I scramble back down.
“Could be an army coming at us under the trees, but looks calm.”
He nods and gestures toward the can of sliced peaches he’s set at my end of the table.
“Fill yer boots. We can weather the winter here, I reckon.”
I pull the ring on the can and lose myself in the flavour of something that tastes better and wetter than MREs. Draining the syrup to the last drop, I place the empty can back on the table and wave my eating knife about.
“How d’you find these places?”
It’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask for the last year or so, but never got up the courage. Guess I was still star-struck. After all, how many orphan kids running wild through a post-apocalyptic wasteland get partnered by Levi Skills? I used to watch his webshow about survival after the SHTF. I was never able to afford the fancy stuff he came up with, but his basic skills and mindset schooling went so deep it became instinctive.
He looks up and grins.
“Been wondering when you’d get round to that.” he puts his empty down, then stretches.
“Started to see the way things were going a good few years before it all went to hell. Like you, I came up through the foster system. Never had much that I couldn’t pick up and run with. Figured out to do anything except shelter in place or hunker down with neighbours, you needed money. Serious money. The sort of money I would never have.
“I spent what I had on a webcam, then started shooting what I knew in a copse out back of the garage where I worked. After a while, I picked up a reputation. Other survival sites started linking to me. So I started coming up with bigger projects, whole bolt-holes and hideaway builds. Got all my info off other people’s sites, just dressed it up for the videos using the back of a wall in the garage yard and some stuff stolen from a nearby building site. People started asking me for help, so I started advising them on sites and such. Got invited to a lot of them – always passed on the ones where the folks involved knew what they were doing. Just in case someone asked a question I couldn’t answer without access to real experts.
“Naturally, a few people took issue with my shakier ideas. I took them down and pedalled them to the eager as ‘secret survival knowledge for the serious prepper’. My basics were as solid as any. The advanced stuff was theory, lies, and…”
He stops and looks at me.
“Those ‘secret survival tips’? A whole range of stupid things to do in confined spaces that will kill you and any who hide with you. That’s why the smart folk called me out. The smug folk thought the smart ones were only jealous, then spent their money building shelters that became caches for me after they died.”
Holy shit.
“The lower level that’s flooded?”
Levi nods.
“Full of drowned amateurs.”