Saturday, April 19, 2014

Distance, Chapter 59


Sunday, December Third
3:20 p.m.
Hamilton, Illinois

The backed up single-file traffic on Second Street, which led to the bridge over the Mississippi probably meant that the S.A. was searching vehicles or at least had some sort of checkpoint in place.
Doug was behind the wheel for the return trip, Peter in the passenger seat, and their wives in the back rows of the Suburban with Sergeant Case and two of his men joining him in the remaining seats—dressed in civilian clothing, but ready with their weapons if needed.  The rest of the U.S. recon unit had positioned themselves in the twenty-four foot trailer, making the hasty trip west before the S.A. could react…or so they thought.  Case communicated with the rest of his men via a small, short-range headset radio.

“Can’t see anything ahead, Sergeant.  Too many trees until we’re nearly to the bridge approach,” Peter told Case. “Snow’s not helping things, either.”

“Smoke up ahead. Look over to the side there,” Doug said, pointing over the grey trees.

The row of vehicles moved slowly, no more than a few miles per hour, creeping ahead to the southwest. As they crept ahead, they stopped briefly on railroad tracks, which also passed over the Mississippi.  Case was the first to notice the source of the smoke.

“Look to your right—down track.  There’s your smoke,” he said.

Doug looked left briefly, seeing the glow of numerous rail cars burning and derailed, as the traffic urged him on. No emergency lights or response crews were visible.

“You think they derailed, or is the bridge gone?” Peter asked.

“Traffic wouldn’t be moving if our bridge was out, but no telling on the rail bridge…for a couple more minutes anyway,” Doug replied. 

They gradually made their way to the bridge approach, seeing another reason for the traffic slowdown: A tractor-trailer had wrecked, partly rolling over on side, crushing the bed of a pickup. Again, no emergency vehicles had responded, but several other vehicles had stopped to help.

“What happened to that truck? The road is straight here,” Molly asked innocently.

“Look at the trailers. Look at those holes!” Peter said as they drew closer. The cargo trailers were peppered with large-diameter holes…running the length of both trailers and exiting out the exposed side, now facing the sky.  Case didn’t say anything as they passed the truck. A wall of windblown smoke from the derailed train blocked the view ahead.  Peter wisely shut off the heater and defroster, so as not to bring the smoke inside the Suburban.

“You might want to let the cars ahead clear, and get through that smoke quickly,” Case said. “We don’t know what’s in it.”  

Doug realized the smoke could be toxic, with unknown chemicals from the burning rail cars.

“Gotcha,” he replied, double-checking the air vents on the dash. The traffic ahead continued to move slowly, disappearing through the smoke.  Doug waited a few more seconds, and goosed the accelerator, causing the four-wheel drive to break loose on the icy bridge approach.  They passed through the wall of smoke without incident, seeing the carnage to the right as they cleared the oily smoke on the other side of the bridge.

“Good God,” Peter said, the first to speak.  The derailed train hung from the wreckage of the rail bridge. Large sections of the bridge were missing, and those that remained were heavily damaged by the accordion reaction of the rail cars as they piled up.

“Air Force was busy today, looks as if,” Gunner Case replied.

“We bombed our own bridge?” Molly asked incredulously.

“No, the United States Air Force bombed a railroad bridge being used by the enemy to transport goods, troops and materiel to the front,” Case answered. “And about damned time.”

As they rubbernecked the scene, Doug nearly didn’t notice the cluster of S.A. troops at the far end of the bridge, who were also gawking at the wreckage.  Several were leaning on the bridge rails, AK-47’s slung over their back and hanging behind them. The Suburban and trailer passed unchallenged and unnoticed.

“OK, I can breathe now,” Doug said, flipping on the defroster as the S.A. trucks and men disappeared behind them.

Downtown Keokuk was gloomy with no electric lights showing, snow drifted over the curbs and filling doorways of the closed shops.  Traffic thinned out as the bridge traffic dispersed.  Doug and Peter debated taking the side roads rather than the highways, and the chances of ‘issues’ with the trailer in the snow.  They elected to take U.S. Sixty One north at first, and work west, staying on some of the larger County roads. With luck, they’d be back at the Farm in another hour.  

One hour pushed into two, as the roads grew increasingly icy and the wind picked up, the Suburban and trailer both sliding dangerously. Finally, nearing six p.m., they pulled into the main entry to the Farm.  By then, Case had been filled in on the operations of the Farm, security, and patterns of S.A. movements locally.  Roeland met them at the gate, naturally surprised by the towed trailer.

“What’s going on?” he asked through the drivers’ window.

“We have some guests. United States Army,” Peter replied. Roeland stepped back in shock.

“And welcome they are.  Drive all the way into the equipment shed, trailer and all. I’ll signal ahead.”

“Will do,” Doug replied.

He drove ahead through the heavy snow, steering into the cavernous and dark equipment shed, where Maria met him and guided him all the way into the building.  The huge sliding door closed behind them, and the lights snicked on as they exited the Chevy.

“Maria, we have some guests,” Peter said, introducing Sergeant Case.  The remaining men piled out of the travel trailer, fanning out to cover the room.

“We will need more seats for dinner,” she replied dryly. “Welcome to you all,” she said, nodding her head slightly. “You ladies head into the house. You both look green.”

“Lunch isn’t sitting well,” Molly replied.

“That, and a touch of car-sickness,” Julie said. “And my back hurts.”

“Ian managed to sleep all the way back, so I’m sure that means I’ll be up most of the night,” Molly said, taking Ian, car seat and all, from the Chevy.

“Go have some tea. Dinner is ready and on the stove,” Maria said.  “Quietly, though. Arie is sick.”

“Is it serious?” Peter asked.

“It is a cold at the moment. I pray it does not get worse. He is an uncooperative patient, as he has always been.”

“Maria, we need to meet with the Weerstand. I’m sure you understand why,” Doug said.

“It has been an eventful day. I will have Roeland contact Jakob. Peter, I will need some help in the kitchen. Do you mind? Douglas, see to the comforts of our guests.  It may be best to keep them in the shed for the time being,” Maria said. “There have been a number of small aircraft passing over today. Jakob doesn’t know if they are watching us.”

“Drones, Ma’am?” Case asked, and introduced himself.

“Jakob believes so. Several jet aircraft as well, again.  Jakob did not recognize them, however.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Case replied, turning to his men and speaking to them in a conversation to quiet to hear.  Several went into action immediately, retrieving equipment, and began to set up the gear.   Maria and Peter headed to the house.

“Sergeant, you might not get much of a signal in here. It’s been set up as a pretty large Faraday cage,” Doug stated.

“Our gear should be able to receive signals in here, sir,” one of the men replied quite confidently. 

“Good luck,” Doug said. “The guy who designed it used to work for the NSA. I’m pretty sure that his defense is better than your offense,” he said, looking at the soldier setting up a laptop, connected to a non-descript flat box with a flip up antenna. Doug waited for the expected outcome, and was not disappointed.

“Sarge, uh, we’ve got nothing. Not minimal, nothing,” the soldier stated.

“We used this room to analyze S.A. bugs planted in my old Jeep, as well as in captured S.A. equipment. We couldn’t really do that if there was a snowball’s chance in Hell of a signal getting out,” Doug said.  “Also, if that’s a passive receiver, you’re probably OK to use it. If it’s a transmitter, it puts the Farm at risk.”

“It’s not a transmitter like anything out in the wild, sir,” the soldier said. “There are six of these in the world. No way the S.A. could crack it.”

“Where were the components made?” Doug asked calmly.

“What?” Case and the soldier answered.

“Jake found signals emanating from what appeared to be an average circuit board. A circuit board. Nothing even soldered to it…just a printed circuit. It was light and heat activated.  Where was it made? China,” Doug said, pausing. “So are you sure that you know that thing isn’t a great big flare in the dark?”

Both looked at Doug for a moment, and then at the box and the laptop.

“Maybe let Jake crack that open and take a look before you fire it up out in the field,” Doug said. “Meanwhile, there’s a restroom and shower through that door, and the door to the bunkhouse is over to the right. Probably need to leave the door open to get some heat in there, though. No hot water without heating up the woodstove over there,” he said, pointing to a modern woodstove and boiler.

“Sarge, we’re ready for patrol. Tired of sitting around,” one of the men said from across the shop.

“Rothe, shut the Hell up,” Case barked. “They’ve been running LP/OP’s longer than you’ve been out of Basic,” he said, referring to the numerous observation posts on the Farm and throughout the extended area.  “And that grandmother can probably outshoot your sorry ass.”

Doug held back a smile, knowing that in her younger days, Maria’s hobby had been a local version of biathlon, but used thirty-ought sixes at a minimum distance of five hundred yards, rather than twenty-two caliber rifles at a hundred-sixty.

Several of Case’s men checked out the bunkhouse, laughing that they’d be sleeping in ‘Air Force quarters’ as the beds were so nice.

The men enjoyed and praised the Segher’s hospitality as Maria and Peter had served numerous quarts of hot, home-canned beef stew, and the majority of the freshly baked bread for the week was consumed in a single meal.  Molly took a quick nap as Julie baby-sat Ian.

The restless Army squad wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer regarding night watch and security rotation.  Roeland and Jake briefed the men on the locations of the observation posts, signals procedures, expected weather, and recent events on other allied farms. Several of the men had to be taught on how to use the ancient, hard-wired Army-issue field telephones, unused by the military for decades, but perfectly serviceable for the task at hand on the Farm. Four of the men would take the eight p.m. to midnight shift; the other the midnight to six shift.  Roeland explained that the S.A. activity after two a.m. usually dropped off to undetectable levels—on more than one occasion, the Weerstand had found S.A. asleep on their assigned patrol locations…and occasionally killed them for their inattention.  The farms usually ratcheted down guard duties during that time as well, getting ready for the coming work day, as much as that might be possible.  The pattern was well established, and there was no reason to think that the S.A. would change, especially in ‘farm country.’

Jake carefully cracked open both the laptop and the mysterious black box carried by the communications specialist in Case’s squad, under watchful eyes of numerous soldiers.
As suspected, the raw circuit boards were indeed sourced from China, but Jake could not find any evidence of surreptitious tracking or transmitting ability. He reassembled both units, clearing Specialist Chris Evans to contact U.S. Army command. Despite numerous attempts to make contact, Evans was unsuccessful in raising anyone in other patrols or anyone on the designated satellite frequencies, all the way up the food chain to San Antonio.   

Case’s squad members were armed with suppressed M4 rifles, in addition to their standard-issue side arms.  Roeland opened up two cases of ammunition for the squad to reload their depleted inventories and each of the men took a few magazines, ‘just because’. The night however, passed uneventfully with another five inches of snow falling overnight.  Snow had benefits as well as liabilities: Tracks in the snow easily showed out-of-place foot traffic (this night, there was none); and any surviving game in the area could be tracked for harvest. The liabilities were obvious—no party in force could camouflage their passage on foot without leaving an obvious trail, a fact not lost on the U.S. Army.

Monday, December Fourth
4:00 a.m.
The Segher Farm

Doug had managed five uninterrupted hours of sleep before Julie rose, the baby causing her discomfort.  The remainder of her night was restless, but sleep was impossible for Doug at that point.  He quietly dressed at four a.m., went into the kitchen, where he found Case already up, looking over a map of southern Iowa.

“Any idea on where you’re heading?”

“Not until we’re in touch with upstairs.”

“Still nothing on your radio?”

“Picked up some distant stuff from Nebraska…Grand Island. We’ve apparently got troops there moving east.  Nothing though within our communications tree.”

“I’m sure you can stay here as long as you need,” Doug said, feeding the firebox in the woodstove for tea.

“We appreciate that, but we do have an extraction point established.  We’re just a couple hundred miles behind schedule,” Case said.

“Can’t help much with that, unfortunately. Pretty tough to move at all right now beyond the farm and the local towns. I think were damned lucky yesterday, getting you out of Illinois.”

“Why risk it? You, your wife, family…”

“Had a chance. It worked. Probably….perhaps certainly, wouldn’t work today or tomorrow, depending on how the S.A. is pumping the war today,” Doug said. “We’ve done a few things over the past couple weeks that would’ve gotten us shot in a public square, had we been caught. Yesterday wasn’t much different.”

“Such as?” Case asked.

“The most interesting was probably taking down the surveillance cameras in three towns simultaneously. That was a challenge,” Doug said.

“What cameras?”

“Every Federal building, whether it’s post office, agriculture office, unemployment, HHS, whatever, along with every police station, fire station, hospital, county seat…they all have a nice surveillance camera hanging over the street right in front of the building…and cameras on the buildings and parking lots of course.  The street cameras were the first target, later the others as opportunities came about.  Took all the street cameras out at the same minute, in all three towns.  Surprising how effective a little electricity can be at frying electronics.”

“How did you do it?” Case asked with a little smile.

“Farm trucks with portable welders,” Doug explained.  “The poles they’d installed the cameras on all had a wire path that was in a specific location within the metal pole.  Tagging that one spot for thirty seconds with a decent sized arc welder cooked the cameras and probably the computers they were feeding.”

“Didn’t the S.A. respond?”

“Tough for them to get out of the buildings that were hit.  We had other teams that either blocked the doors with trucks and then left them there—the doors most of the time opened outward—or four guys carried three-quarter inch thick sheets of plywood and portable nail guns and just boarded up the doors,” Doug said. “It was really just a one time opportunity.  After that, they had armed guards standing watch outside every building…until a couple weeks ago. Somehow or other, their guards keep getting shot in the head or chest. Single shots. Long range, no one heard the report. The S.A. apparently hasn’t been all that successful at collecting all the firearms out there,” he chuckled.

“So, what about the other cameras?”

“When electricity became less than reliable, Jake found the weak link in the facilities’ camera installation, too.  The lenses are armored glass.  The coax cables weren’t shielded as well. A few good quality air rifles, and most of them were out of commission. The air rifles are pretty handy for harassing S.A. loyalists wherever they are.”

“Dangerous,” Case said.

“Yeah, but when they force the locals into their service, there comes a point you have to stand up. We reached that point some weeks ago.”

“So what are you doing to, as you say, harass?”

“If the S.A. loyals come ‘shopping’, goods are found that are fitting for them, meaning, rotting.  Service that they might need is delayed due to ‘lack of parts’ or ‘lack of knowledgeable service people’; the heat in their hotel rooms is generally inoperative—you do know that they use the hotels for barracks, right?” Doug asked without waiting for an answer.  “The air rifles are put to use shooting holes in the windows of their rooms.  There isn’t replacement glass, or tape to cover them. So, their rooms get cold. There isn’t plywood to cover them, so the rooms become abandoned. Without dependable electricity, the boilers running the heating systems fail. Pipes freeze. Hotels become uninhabitable.”

“Grinding them down,” Case stated. 

“It’s one way. It won’t be the only way,” Doug said.

“What about this food issue? Is what you say on the up and up?”

“Yes,” Doug said unequivocally. “If your troops were to consume the combinations of food fed to the S.A. troops and their gangs, you’d find that you could order them to do absolutely anything, and they’d likely execute those orders without question, remorse or conscience.  Think about that for a minute.”

Case’s eyes narrowed as he contemplated what Doug had said.

“My former employer had a contract to make MRE’s for the U.S. military.  They did so with the RNEW formula slipped into it, and they distributed it heavily in the Northeast and some other urban areas when things started to come apart. They timed the distribution to coincide with the economic collapse…which I suspect that they helped facilitate. When I learned what the stuff was, I helped get word out on what the RNEW products were and could do, and during a stint in Denver, I worked for the Food and Drug Administration.  I managed to derail numerous attempts to ship those MRE’s to the Western U.S., without my former employer catching on.   I sent information to your superiors in Texas that would’ve resulted in me being shot in the head and dumped in a slit trench. With some help, I disappeared from the Federal Government and from my former employer.  I suspect that if either knew I was here, and certainly if they knew of my current activities, I’d be dead. So would everyone on this farm.”

Case didn’t say anything, but considered Doug’s statement.

“Where are you from, Sergeant?”

“Little town. Ashton, Idaho. Population twelve-hundred and five.”

“Sorry, never heard of it,” Doug replied.

“Not many have…and that’s perfectly okay.”

“You’d take these risks too, if this were Ashton, Idaho,” Doug said.   “How long have you served?” 

“Seven years. Iraq, Afghanistan, several other places that were never official deployments and of course we never officially killed anyone,” Case replied as one of his men entered the kitchen.

“Sarge, got Command in San Antonio. Comms are routed through an AWACS south of here. Entire satellite network is fried, they say. Better hustle, not sure how long our uplink will last.”

“Good luck,” Doug said, filling the old teapot. “Give the United States our regards.” 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tom, where ya been?

Well, it's not complicated.

Tied up in a building project (relocated our company) which has consumed a vast amount of time since January, aside from "real work" in my day job;  seemingly endless project stuff at the house, a rebuild project at our church (arson fire); and the youngest is graduating from college in a couple of weeks.

That said, I will have the next-to-last chapter of Distance up by the end of the weekend.

Happy Easter, everyone.  He is Risen Indeed.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Distance, Chapter 58


Sunday, December Third
10:14 a.m.
Ferris, Illinois

Church services provided convenient opportunities to travel outside of the normal radius of work activity, especially during the Christmas season.  The S.A., at least in rural Iowa and Illinois, didn’t hinder Sunday travel, especially a surge that happened to be around the time of regular services in the area.  Doug and Julie, Peter, Molly and baby Ian took the opportunity to visit second cousins in Illinois as their cover, as well as delivering early Christmas presents and a few ‘replacement parts for farm machinery.’

Two days a week, one could expect to see some amount of traffic on the roads, even with scarce fuel: Sunday, for church services and perhaps a trip into ‘town’, and Wednesdays, which the S.A. nationally had designated a ‘Market Day’. They expected the nation to be able to complete all necessary shopping and business that involved private automobiles to be completed within a single day--with penalties likely given should one be caught on the road on any other day.  The new decree, given just before Thanksgiving, didn’t affect most of the farmers, who had thinned out their reasons for visiting towns, but did radically affect those who shopped for entertainment, sport, or subsistence. Of course, the lack of fuel dropped most traffic from the roads more quickly than a decree. Transportation devolved from gasoline and diesel to bicycles and horseback within weeks.

This particular day, a bio-diesel fueled Suburban from the farm was cleaned and made presentable for the trip, in order to appear that it was a commuter vehicle and not a workhorse. The cargo area held wrapped ‘presents’, which if opened, would be sweaters, quilts, and other homemade crafts; and several rough boxes, containing what appeared to be useable parts for farm engines and a hydraulic pump and manifold.

S.A. checkpoints were non-existent on the route that Peter had chosen, which took County roads to the east toward the Mississippi, then south toward Keokuk, across the river, and then taking rarely used County roads into the little village of Ferris, which pre-War, had less than two hundred residents.

The trip of course had the primary purpose of exchanging intelligence with Resistance cells in Illinois.  This particular corner of the state had little in the way of interest for typical State of America operations—mostly farming and dispersed agricultural businesses, and no major freeways, no military bases…but it was a good place for being ‘out of the way.’
They met Jack Classen and his mother Olga, Arie’s second cousin and the matriarch of the Weerstand in the region on the steps of the small church in the village. Typical Christmas carols played to the sparse congregation in the barely heated sanctuary as the pastor spoke from Luke of Jesus’ birth. No one was prepared for the two vreemden --outsiders-- standing just inside the door, looking at the congregants.  The pastor’s invitation to sit was ignored, if not in hostility, in indifference.  Doug held Julie’s hand during the sermon, as he contemplated a ‘play’, should the S.A. ‘ambassadors’ do something.  His handgun rested in a holster under his left arm; he knew that Peter Forsythe had at least one handgun, including a small Kahr forty-five caliber concealed carry, on his ankle.  Julie had a three-eighty semi automatic; Molly carried a twin to Julie’s.  Ian slept soundly in his car seat, bundled up against the cold.

The handful of ceiling lights failed just as the pastor began the benediction.   A church elder efficiently lit several ancient Coleman lanterns, hanging on hooks on the sides of the sanctuary. Doug thought this must be a regular occurrence, and the church just dealt with it. Within a few more minutes, they filed out of the building, into a light snow. Peter waited until they were far away from the S.A. troops before he spoke.

“Is the power as spotty here as it is on our side of the river?” Peter asked, holding little Ian in his blanket sleeper.

“Every few days. Cannot predict it,” Olga said. “It doesn’t really affect us much. Let us get to the farm and we will talk further, Ja?”

“Certainly,” Peter replied as Molly put Ian back in the car seat.

Doug noted how much Olga sounded like Arie—like a sister, not a cousin.

Six miles outside of town, Jack Classen turned off of the County road into a long farm road, his well-worn Suzuki Samurai easily handling the rutted, icy roads.  The farmhouse was nothing like the Segher’s—this home was rancher-style, dating from the fifties or sixties, complete with a swimming pool in the front yard, now covered with ice and snow.  An oversized metal clad pole barn stood to the southwest, with an old camp trailer parked nearby.  Someone was inside the home, and opened the front door as they hurried inside. Doug helped Julie along the icy pathway.

“Thanks, Paul,” Jack said. 

“It’s hitting the fan,” the younger man said quietly to his older brother.  Doug thought that the younger Classen looked about twenty, with Jack a few years older.

“What is this?” their mother replied.

“The S.A., Mom,” he answered. “They’ve fired ballistic missiles at the U.S.”

“Nuclear?” Doug asked.

“Is there any other kind?” he replied.  “I’m Paul, by the way.”

“Doug Peterson, and my wife Julie,” he said, shaking hands.

“Good to see you again, Paul,” Julie’s brother said, shaking his hand as well.

“How do you know this?” Olga pressed. “How to be certain?”

“Shortwave network. Spotter saw some sort of portable launcher setup, right in downtown Detroit.  Two missiles went up from there.  Big, not surface to air,” the young man said. “Another guy confirmed the vapor trail with three other locations, headed southwest. Not long after that, the radios died.”

“Died? The radios are on batteries,” Olga. “You mean they quit broadcasting?”

“No, I mean there was nothing to receive—anywhere, on any frequency. Even the nonsense chatter—that scrambled stuff—is gone.”

“Where did they go? The missiles, that is,” Doug asked.

“The power’s out for a reason, I think,” Jack replied. “I think they were electromagnetic weapons, and they nuked the grid.”

“Is there any way to know?” Peter asked.

“The gibberish signals and tones that we heard were from satellite broadcasts.  If they used an EMP, the satellites would probably be dead,” Paul answered. “Our guests think so, too,” he said cryptically.

“Paul, did you try another radio? One that had been in the cage when the first one died?” Jack asked.

“Yeah. It powers up fine, so does that other little scanner. Tests OK with local broadcasts—picks up my own CB radio—, which was probably dangerous to do. But there’s nothing out there for it to pick up.”

No one spoke for a few seconds as they considered what might have happened.

“Would the S.A. really use a nuclear weapon on the U.S.?” Julie asked.

“I shouldn’t say this,” Doug answered, “But not much would surprise me when it comes to what they might do, especially if they are desperate. Or acting deliberately.”

“Are they desperate?” Olga asked. “We have news for you, before you answer that. Come with me to the basement and meet our guests. Paul, how is the fire?”

“It’s fine.  Lunch is heating and should be ready soon.”

“Peter, Ian needs to be changed and to eat. Would you help out with lunch?” Molly asked.

“I’ll be right back,” Olga replied to Molly.  “Peter needs to meet our friends.”

Jack took a small battery powered lantern and lit it for the trip to the basement, which already had some light emanating from the bottom of the stairs. Doug thought he heard someone downstairs.

“We have guests, my friends. Do not be alarmed,” Olga said to the basement.  Doug heard a number of people move below him. Julie followed, holding his hand.  He thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’

He wasn’t long to wait for an answer.  As he followed Olga downstairs, he saw eight men stand.

“Ma’am,” a rather stocky man said, “May I ask who these folks is?”

“They are your contacts on my cousin’s farm in Iowa,” Olga replied.  “Douglas here, worked for the S.A. in Denver. I think you will want to hear what he has to say.”

“Now, wait a sec,” Doug said. “I didn’t know they were the S.A. They were the Federal Government at that point. I worked for the Food and Drug Administration.”

“Yes, that is true. But you have been ‘inside,’ so to speak, Ja?”

“Fair enough,” Doug answered.

“Please be seated, everyone,” Olga directed, and the men sat rather uncomfortably in the large family room.  “Sergeant, you might want to talk with Douglas about his work outside of the Federals, as well.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Classen. I’d appreciate any information that can be provided.”  Doug could tell that the man probably didn’t trust the newcomers, and he couldn’t blame him one bit.  They were hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, and while not dressed in military digital camouflage, their attire was certainly not entirely civilian.

“Very good. Now, I will go see to luncheon. Jack, perhaps you should keep a lookout from the barn? Julie, you sit now. Do not tire yourself,” Olga ordered. “Mister Case? Perhaps after lunch, one of your men should join Jack out in the barn?”  One of the men moved a chair closer for Julie, Case nodded at him and the man headed upstairs, to join Jack on lookout without taking lunch.  Julie took off her coat and covered her lap, watching the young men around her.

“Introductions are in order, I believe. I’m Sergeant Gunner Case, U.S. Army. We’re from the Second Battalion, Seventy Fifth Rangers, formerly of Fort Lewis, Washington.” Doug shook his hand.

“Doug Peterson. My wife Julie,” he said, before introducing Peter as well.

“I understand you’re a member of the Weerstand as well?”

“Adopted, not born into it,” Doug said, sitting at a well-worn mahogany poker table, where Peter had already taken a seat. “I hope this means that the U.S. is on the move?”

“Tides will turn, sir.”

“What can we help you with?” he asked.

“Anything you can tell us about the S.A. in the region would be appreciated.”

“Are you guys…on foot?” Peter asked.

“Mobility doesn’t always mean wheels, sir.”

For fifteen minutes, the men spoke about the S.A. presence in the smaller towns, tactics, patrol schedules, and the means and methods of S.A. control over the farm country. While Doug and Peter talked to Sergeant Case, the six other men listened intently, several leaning forward and using their M-16’s as one might lean on a cane. Doug noted that Julie had fallen asleep, head resting gently on the side pillow of her chair.  As they were getting into the heart of things, Olga called them upstairs for lunch.  Doug roused Julie, who was a bit embarrassed to have fallen asleep so quickly.

Olga had Paul say a blessing before lunch, in Dutch and English, for the crowd. After the ladies had been served, Peter and Doug were shooed into the line, followed by the Sergeant. 

Lunch was a thick vegetable beef stew, served from an enormous stockpot.  A huge basket of rounded sourdough loaves, butter, tea and milk was resting on the sideboard in the dining room.  Olga gave the men permission to eat wherever they liked, which drew raised eyebrows from Paul.  He took his lunch and went back to the bank of radio equipment, put his headphones on, and again scanned the frequencies.    

“Did you get any information from your superiors about S.A. weapons stockpiles?” Peter asked of Sergeant Case, once they were gathered again in the basement. Case’s involuntary body language told them ‘no.’

“We had a…well, a sort of primitive way to detect S.A. weapons and supplies,” Doug said, explaining briefly the Palm PDA’s capabilities to ‘ping’ RFID chips, and the numerous locations of apparently huge weapons caches. “The report was sent to San Antonio. The response was less than complimentary.”

Case just nodded, looking down at the table for a minute.  “Do you still have this information?”

“Not with us, but we have it back at the farm.”

“What about this PDA? Can your guy make more of these? Might be handy for squads like mine to see what’s out there.”

“I’m sure that could be arranged,” Doug said.  “Are you headed our way?”

“We’re tasked with recon.  There are supposed to be some other units in your vicinity, but obviously no one’s been on touch with you.  We were scheduled to contact Command this evening. Schmitz over there confirmed Paul’s thoughts on radio comms—we’re not able to raise anyone, but our own short-range gear is fine. The world got a lot bigger as a result—no comms, no support, no resupply, no extraction.”  One of Case’s men headed upstairs as they continued to talk.

“Where were you…” Peter began.

“Can’t say, because I don’t know,” Case replied.

Doug explained how to get to the Farm, knowing that traveling by stealth would require night travel, crossing the Mississippi by boat or by guarded bridge, or by vehicle. All but the last option would take days.   Another option came to mind, but he’d need more time to think about it before bringing it up.

He next delved into his time with Regent Performance, including every detail of the RNEW products and the effects of combining the various altered food and beverage products; the observed behavior of those who used the food and Doug’s educated opinion on how the altered human behavior might be used by the S.A. in the prosecution of the War.  Sergeant Case’s brow furrowed at Doug’s narrative, probably holding back some emotion about Doug’s personal involvement. It was not the first time that Doug had seen that look in the eyes of someone who heard what RNEW could do, by someone who helped it along.

Peter then discussed how the Segher Farm was operating, along with adjacent farms, towns and villages; and how each dealt with increasingly intrusive S.A. lackeys in the region.  The Weerstand had been successful in persuading all but the most persistent of the patrols.  That particular incident had taken far to the west of the Seghers, and the three ‘ambassadors’ met their end at a pig farm.  Reports immediately surfaced about the men and their official vehicle heading toward Kansas City, where the vehicle was later found abandoned and out of fuel.  The replacement S.A. patrol was wise enough to not repeat the intrusiveness of their predecessors. They were a half-hour into the discussion when Paul interrupted them.

“Guys, we’ve got something going on,” he said. 

“Schmiddty? That true?” Case asked of his communications man who’d rejoined them.

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Spill,” Case replied.

“Major S.A. troop movements heading west.  Rail, road, air.  Civilian traffic on the roads is being commandeered and people tossed out of their cars.  Wholesale house-to-house searches of anyone who’d ever filled out ATF Form Four Four Seven Three. Rumors of arrests and disappearances. Unconfirmed information about U.S. units being hunted down by S.A. regulars.  Anyone fighting back’s killed, sir.”

“Source?” Case asked.

“Multiple sources, some obviously ex-military. Police, civilians, multiple locations. Freqs included Ham, CB, and a pirated AM station,” Schmitz answered.

“And you know, I think,” Paul added, “that it’s a death sentence to get caught using transmitters of any kind.”

“Reliability of intel?”

“Fifty-fifty, Sarge,” Schmitz said.

“They could be sending false intel to flush, but I don’t think that’s likely,” Doug said. “That’s not really the way they work.”

“And you know this, how, exactly, Mister Peterson?” Case asked skeptically.

“In my experience they are much more about subtle intimidation, then followed by overt intimidation and then by overwhelming force; not scaring people into action and then hunting them down. It’s just not their style,” Doug answered.  “Guns in private hands in the S.A. are illegal already. The ATF forty-four seventy-three forms that every one filled out to buy a firearm through a dealer is a menu for them to round up any weapons and anyone who didn’t turn them in. They probably have a large enough army, in uniform or not, to go house to house and find anyone they damned well please.  If they used the ATF forms for guns, how long will it be before they use the FCC database for amateur radio owners too? It’s just a matter of time.”

Peter added to Doug’s thoughts. “Either way. Game changed today. If we were near a major interstate or rail line, we could probably see troop movements. And, that’d probably get us killed along the way.”

“Sergeant, if you have a couple minutes, there are a few other things I picked up,” Schmitz stated.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, and rose to join his men, talking quietly.

“Did you give Olga the one-time pads?” Doug asked Peter.  The Weerstand used the ‘old-school’ encryption technique when possible, including until recently, coded radio broadcasts using the plain-text lettering.  They would now, if possible rely on physical transfers of the encrypted paper messages. The pads and their encryption keys were the products of Jake Segher’s spare time.

“Twenty sets and keys. I need to take that hydraulic manifold apart and give Paul the reloading dies and put the press together, and get the primers from the air cleaner,” he replied.  The Seghers had disassembled an ammunition reloading press to the smallest denominator, and packed the components inside the ‘spare parts’ that upon inspection, would bolt right up to a John Deere combine. Under the hood of the Suburban, one of the large ‘batteries’ for the diesel actually held bulk lead for casting bullets and several molds. The two ‘spare tires’ strapped to the roof of the Chevy held enough cleaned brass to create five thousand rounds of thirty-ought six ammunition. A few other hidden packages included the remaining components of a reloading setup, the possession of which was a crime in the S.A.

“I’m wondering if there’s a better way to get these guys over to the Farm and back west. Or maybe find a way to get them back in touch with the U.S. Army,” Doug said.

“I’m not sure I’m going to like what you’re coming up with, Doug,” Peter said. “What exactly are you proposing?”

“If the S.A. is on the move, and I have to believe that this would come sooner or later, trips like this one will be impossible,” Doug said. “What if, for instance, we were to take that old travel trailer out there, load up these men, and sweet-as-you-please, drive them back to the Farm?”

“Did it look road worthy to you?” Peter asked. “Because it sure didn’t to me.”

“Not particularly, but it might be worth a look.  We’ve got to unload the Chevy anyway.  We could check with Olga, see what she thinks at least.”

“You realize that if we get caught we’re all dead, right?” Peter said very quietly.

“And it would be different than this mornings’ trip in which way, exactly?” Doug replied.

Peter looked Doug in the eye and said, “If Olga gives us the OK, how do you plan to break this to our wives?”

“You’ll be the first to know when I come up with that,” Doug answered. “Either way, if there is some sort of major offensive going on, we don’t have much time.”

“Then we better move quickly,” Peter replied.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Distance Chapter 57


Friday, November 17
6:10 a.m.
Peterson Cabin on the Segher Farm

Waking to the wind-up alarm was nothing new to Doug, although more than two months ‘home’ now with Julie, he still woke with a smile on his face, knowing she was with him.

They’d settled in to a very small home on Segher property, this one farther off the beaten path than any of the other homes.  The little house had been a summer cabin or guest-house on occasion, barely modernized over its long history. Doug and Julie’s combined furnishings couldn’t fill the five small rooms.   Tucked into the oak and hickory west of the main farm, the cabin cooked with wood, heated with wood, and other than a sixty-amp electrical service to run lights, a small water heater and the refrigerator, was off-grid. Since move-in day, Doug and Julie had used the lighting sparingly, but had used the electricity to listen in on the world outside of the dozen or so counties surrounding them.  He wasn’t too surprised to see the battery-powered LED ‘power failure light’ in the kitchen glowing softly.  Electric power had been spotty for more than a month now.  He flipped on the battery-powered scanner and heard some garbled transmissions, but mostly static.  An old AM/FM car radio, also running on twelve-volt power, was scanning the AM band, but nothing was transmitting.

‘That’s odd,’ Doug thought.

Julie remained asleep, snuggled deep in fleece sheets beneath the down comforter as Doug rose and built a new fire in the cookstove. He briefly looked outside, shining a big flashlight across the clearing beyond the porch. Still an hour before sunrise, there was no hint of light, but what surprised him the most was the ice built up on the window frame and porch rail. There had been no meaningful news in days, only stories fabricated from whole cloth for the pleasure of those in the media for the consumption of the people, obviously as directed by the State. Weather reports were out of the question. 

Life in the State of America bore little resemblance to life in the United States of America, despite the geography. Since his return to Iowa and being reunited with Julie, Doug had thus far put his Regent life behind him, and had built a great deal of trust within the Weerstand. While he’d only had a half-dozen missions in the field, mostly drops of supplies and one-time code books, his thoughts on actions against the State were considered as seriously as any other.  Unlike some in the Weerstand, Doug did not hold a job off-farm—entirely due to the probability that Regent would find him. His knowledge of both Regent and now S.A. beliefs also made him a bit too valuable to risk.  

The Weerstand in southeast Iowa and in other adjacent regions had been fairly successful at quietly infiltrating the lower levels of local and government, never rising to positions of leadership that were obviously a counter to the direction coming from the new masters.  A number of accidents had occurred in many parts of the state over the past two months, including several single-vehicle accidents, hunting tragedies, and unfortunate industrial incidents. The Weerstand proved to be exceptionally skilled at covert opertions. In only one case was direct action needed—in that case, the options were limited to a subsonic .22 delivered from a suppressed Walther PPKS, or a five-inch long ice pick. The operative in that case chose two rounds from the .22 moments after the target opened the door to his pickup, after meeting with a State of America representative.  The point was well taken, as S.A. leaders from that point forward were always surrounded by men in black uniforms, openly carrying H&K MP-5 submachine guns.  The increasingly visible protection just made the targets easier to find.

Beginning on the first of November, the Weerstand had begun to scout out several S.A. sympathizers in Des Moines, those openly kissing up to the new S.A. governor. When an appropriate point in time arrived and Weerstand operatives were ready, the resistance would quietly and efficiently deal with the S.A. There were no Weerstand people in the replacement queue—these targets were clearly causing the deaths of other Iowans, and it had to cease. Those operations would continue, until the threats were eliminated.

Doug’s debrief after his return from Denver had taken two full days, much of it spent with Jake Segher mapping out Doug’s route, his observations, and the mountain of signals intelligence stored in the obsolete Palm PDA. Jake had found a further layer of information in the chips found in the captured S.A. equipment, this layer identifying the weapon by type. 

Jake double- and triple-checked Doug’s data and then re-checked the programming on the ‘ping’ program, before nearly throwing it out completely. The numbers couldn’t be correct, he’d thought.  Blind tests though, using other captured equipment proved to him that the data collected by Doug probably was accurate.  Between Doug’s departure on September Tenth and his return four days later, the scanner on the PDA had pinged four hundred thousand firearms, over a million MRE packs, and enough supporting gear and munitions to support around a half-million men in the field for three months.  The numbers were staggering.

Doug and Roeland finally convinced Jake to memorialize the data in a formal report and to send it up the Weerstand chain of command. The report was sent out on September Twentieth, but there was little the Weerstand could do about the various caches of stockpiled materiel…until hostilities broke out in late October.  By then though, many of the stockpiles had vanished, as the Weerstand wasn’t able to watch the suspected locations constantly.  Without a dangerous trip through the area with another scanning device, the equipment was untraceable.

Jake had found a way to get through to U.S. forces with the information at the end of October, but the reply he received was at best condescending: “Information provided cannot be reliably confirmed; further, the amount of munitions and distribution of equipment to be frank, is ludicrous.”  More than a little offended, Jake replied, “Recognize that while we have skin in the game, most of these weapons will be primarily pointed at you.”

No further communications had been received regarding the collected information, but the Weerstand took the knowledge as fact, and began full-time surveillance operations on several suspected storage sites.  Scanning would be possible only within the parameters of frequently changing curfews--ruthlessly enforced and immensely dangerous.

S.A. ‘Security Partners’ ran the streets in the major cities within S.A. territory—the ‘Partners’ were often former gang members, with upper leadership comprised of the Statist faithful.  They really had few rules to work around—if they believed you were a threat, a danger, or held something that they wanted, what was yours was theirs. If a ‘story’ didn’t ring true or could actually be verified, there was an even chance that an innocent person would be shipped out to points unknown. No one shipped out had ever been seen again---rumors were running rampant.  In smaller cities and towns, a handful of the Partners usually intimidated enough local law enforcement into doing the dirty work. Such was the case in the towns near the Farm.  The Weerstand had identified the local enforcers in the region, and would take action when the time came.

Private ownership of firearms, ammunition and reloading supplies overnight became a capital offense in the S.A., but enforcement was as dangerous to the S.A. as it was to the general public. That particular Executive Order was widely ignored outside of Denver, but gave any S.A. commander probable cause for anyone holding a concealed carry permit or anyone ever having purchased a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. Despite the ‘law’ prohibiting ‘registration’ of firearms on a national basis, the backdoor database was there for the taking.  Data-mining from other ‘anti-terrorist’ databases, cross referenced on demand, easily tracked other purchases, including ammunition and reloading components, ‘tactical’ equipment, water filtration equipment, or ‘long-term storage food.’  Most purchases were made on credit cards, easily tracing the transactions electronically, and completely open to the government to observe.  Tying those specific transactions into security camera feeds in stores provided instant verification of who-bought-what.  The banks couldn’t do anything about the data mining even if they wanted to—they’d accepted Federal bailouts, with all strings attached.  No bank V.P. wanted to be the victim of an unfortunate ‘hot tub accident’ any more than he wanted to be investigated for ‘insider trading’ or arrested for various forms of ‘illegal material’ that was ‘found’ on his home computer, or die in a ‘single vehicle accident.’

Doug made Julie a simple breakfast to be taken in bed, just tea, toasted apple bread with butter, and bacon.   ‘Second breakfast’ was usually between nine and ten in the morning and usually included eggs, fruit and juice, and a late lunch, usually around one-thirty or so.

“Good morning, mom-to-be,” he said softly as he nudged the door open with his knee.

“What time is it? It seems early,” Julie said as she pulled herself upright, a little awkwardly. “It’s cold.”

“Not quite seven.  And it is cold. It’s only fifteen outside,” he said, kissing her good-morning.

“And fifty inside.”

“A little better. Almost sixty-five.  I need to bring in more wood right away, and re-fill the bin downstairs today.”

“After you move that string of ham like you promised,” Julie said.  Part of the cellar of the cabin was their long-term pantry, with many shelves filled with canning jars and cans.  Down the middle though, Doug had strung up a dozen smoked hams, cured in Roeland’s smokehouse. Half of the hams were nearly a year old now, the younger ones around six months in cure. The curing string was getting difficult for Julie to navigate around. 

“Did you eat?” Julie asked, taking a bite of the delicious bread.

“Yep. Ate at the stove—cooks’ prerogative. Did you get enough sleep?”

“After three I did.  Someone was kicking,” Julie said, patting her unborn child.

“I told you that you should lay off the spicy food,” Doug said with raised eyebrows and lowered chin.

“I like peperoncini. Crave, even.”

“Then don’t blame me when Junior is doing gymnastics four hours later,” Doug replied.  “I’ll go get some more wood.  The hot water should be ready for a shower in about ten minutes.”

“Thanks. I never remember to switch that thing on.”

“They say memory’s the first thing to go,” Doug said, making a hasty retreat as his pillow hit the door jamb.

He suited up on the screen porch, now enclosed with heavy storm windows, barely keeping out the snow and ice.   He donned insulated overalls, heavy boots and a fur lined hat, grabbing his leather mittens on the way out the door, the heavy canvas wood-carrier tucked under his arm.

The wood shed had been built under the trees behind the back porch, crafted from heavy oiled timbers and then shingled with wood and later, metal roofing.  Doug and Peter had spent a couple days loading up this particular woodshed, stacking twelve cords of dried firewood, gathered more than a year before, split and dried under the cover of a ramshackle equipment shed.  Each of the family homes had at least ten cords of wood on hand, with more downed trees around the property for future use. Thankfully, this year the vast majority of the wood had been cut and split with a Segher-built cutting and splitting machine that found a soft-spot in Doug’s life. 

The machine, built on an old flat-bed trailer, had a log grapple mounted to a hydraulic crane that picked up sixteen foot sections of limbed trees and placed them in a cradle.  The cradle had an operator-controlled conveyor, cutting the logs to length as needed with a minimal amount of work from the operator.  Another operation raised a splitting plate at the end of the conveyor on one end of the sectioned log, where a hydraulic ram split the logs into four or eight pieces, depending on the split head installed.  Two engines operated during processing, churning out a sizeable pile of wood with relatively little effort, compared to hand-cutting, splitting, and stacking.    The machine, created by Arie and his late brother, had been modernized a bit over time, and was usually shared with non-family neighbors, after the Segher woods had been addressed.  Doug was able to run the machine for a couple of days, and would have done more, but the early snows ended the season early.  When the splitting season was done, Doug took an extra day to completely clean and lube the machine, replace an leaking hydraulic line, and rebuild one of the hydraulic controls.

The ice was thick on top of the six inches of snow, almost holding Doug’s weight, but with each step he crunched through the shell.  He’d need to load at least a half-cord into the basement today, as the bin was nearly empty. Fortunately there was a chute built into the cellar for the purpose.   He loaded the canvas carrier quickly, thinking about the larger task later in the day. 

Doug had taken three steps toward the house when he felt the noise before hearing it, and stopped in his tracks. He’d just barely turned when some sort of aircraft—moving hundreds of miles an hour—roared overhead just above the trees.  A second, and then a third followed immediately.  He could just make out the blur—no definite shape, no lights, just incredible speed and unbelievable noise. He ran toward the house.  Julie met him in the kitchen.

“What was that?!” she asked anxiously.  “I thought it was an earthquake!”

“Military. Fighters, I think, but I just saw a blur. Three of them.”

“They knocked stuff off the walls!”

“I’m sure they did,” Doug said.  “I need to check with Arie,” he said, noticing that the lights were off.  “Did you shut off the lights?”

“No. I just hopped out of bed! What’s happening?”

“I have no idea. But I’m hoping to find out,” Doug said, picking up a hand-held CB radio. “Where are the batteries?”

“Second drawer,” Julie answered, pulling a wool wrap around her.

Doug fumbled with the battery pack for the radio, finally getting it loaded correctly, turned it on, tuned to the appropriate frequency, and was greeted by Arie’s calm voice.

“Fifty-seven here,” Doug answered.

“Kom binnenkort,” Arie replied in Dutch. ‘Come soon.’

“You OK by yourself?” Doug asked Julie.

“I should be.  Should I block off the windows?” she asked. They had room-darkening inside shutters, in addition to the heavy curtains.

“Might not be a bad idea. I have no idea what’s going on. There’s nothing on the AM band, and not much on the scanner. Maybe Arie knows something.”

“Don’t waste time. Just bring that wood carrier inside. I’ll go get dressed.”  Doug didn’t realize he had dropped the wood on the back porch.

A few minutes later, Doug pulled his old Dodge truck out of a smallish garage, dropping it into four-wheel-drive just to make it up the small incline in the driveway. Roeland had replaced a broken solenoid in the drivetrain after the truck had broken down way back in January, and surprised both Doug and Julie when they moved into the cabin with the newly functioning pickup. They both thought the truck had been sent to the boneyard.

The drive over to Arie and Maria’s was downright treacherous.  The ice on the packed snow was more suited to a bobsled run than a farm road.  Doug kept the truck lights turned off as he drove over.  As he left the truck near Arie’s equipment shed, he felt the rumble of the low-flying jets once more. This time, he had a better view, not blocked by overhead trees.

Four jets, two-by-two, passed over the trees to the west, and banked northeast toward Des Moines. Normally, some lights on the wings would be flashing…these had none. The aircraft weren’t of a familiar type to Doug, either. They were too far away to see any markings, but the shape was wrong.  They resembled an F-16, but the wings seemed too large. All four appeared to be carrying missiles and wing tanks.

“You’ve had a good look, ja?” Arie said, handing Doug a mug of tea.  “What do you think?”

“Not ours,” Doug replied.

“French. Come inside now,” Arie said. “How’s our Julie?”

“Little one kept her up a fair amount last night.  She’s fine though.”

“Don’t let her over-do. No more risks for her,” Arie said, referring to some serious pain that Julie had experienced a week before, working on her feet for many hours a day. They stepped through the door of the equipment shed into the battery-lit room.  Two-dozen men stood inside, looking at a large map on the wall.

“Good morning, Doug,” Roeland said, coming in just behind him.  He was in his deputy sheriff’s uniform, which was far too clean, all things considered.

“Morning. What’s going on?” he asked.

“That is the question of the day,” Jake answered.  “Now that we’re all here, let’s get started.”

Doug hopped up on one of the workbenches on the side wall, looking over the map of the region.

“This morning we were introduced to part of the S.A.’s air force.  Those were French-built Dussault Rafale fighters. Imported two weeks ago according to our intel, brought into Canada on freighters with container ships of spares and armament.  From what we understand, there are two dozen of those in Des Moines at present, with around sixty overall in North America.” No one spoke.

“What else can we expect?” Doug asked.

“Good question, and we have part of an answer. While the Navy has been otherwise occupied in parts of the world, numerous freighters have been making more-or-less normal schedules on the East Coast. Some of the evac ships from Europe were stopped and searched, and numerous passengers kept aboard while others were allowed to enter the U.S. Many of the freighters were container ships, with containers sent to various major cities under Federal protection.  Sources in Ohio and Pennsylvania have confirmed that those containers held military equipment.  Five roll-on, roll-off ships docked in Philadelphia and New York while the New Republic celebrated.  At least ten other ships carrying what we believe to be main battle tanks arrived in New Republic ports and then shipped that equipment to several staging areas.”

“French, too?” someone asked.

“French LeClercs, equipped for urban warfare. German Leopard 2A variants, Russian T-72’s and T-90 variants,” Jake said. “The vast majority of those came into Free Canada. From what we have gathered, there may be a thousand tanks under S.A. command.”  

Someone let out a low, descending whistle.“Does the United States know about this?” another voice asked.

“They’ve been given information. We have no idea if they believe it or not,” Jake replied. 

“One minute, Jake, if you would,” Doug asked.

“Sure, Doug. What’s on your mind?”

“Who runs them?”

“Who runs…” Jake began.

“Tank crews. Who drives? Who’s the tank commander? It’s not like you’re going to take some kid off the street and drop them into these and expect them to know what they’re doing, right?”

“We believe that the S.A. has trained a number of crews virtually. With tank simulators,” Jake said. Someone else laughed.

“Gary, what’s on your mind?”  Jake asked.

“Tanks aren’t video games,” the man answered.  “I drove an Abrams back in the day, against T-72’s and T-80’s.  There isn’t any substitute for actual seat time inside any of them. Furthermore, against an A-10 or any of the newer drones, you don’t have a chance unless you have air superiority, which I doubt the S.A. can create.”

“Point taken,” Jake said. “But none of that will stop them from creating a whole lot of chaos.”

“One more thing,” Doug said. “I’d wager that ammunition isn’t common between those tanks, other than maybe the Russian ones, right?”

“Correct, from what we know,” Jake replied.

“Wouldn’t it be fun, to be able to get into the S.A. supply channels, and send the French ammunition to a Russian tank division?” Many of the men chuckled at Doug’s suggestion.

“There’s gotta be a way to get into their organizational system and screw with them,” Doug said. “Ten minutes of database access and you’re there.”

“We will take that under advisement,” Jake said with a smile. “I know just the guy.”