Sunday, February 23, 2014
Sunday, December Third
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.
“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
Friday, November 17
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.”
Monday, December 9, 2013
North Platte, Nebraska
Doug was rudely awakened by a security agent pounding on the cab of the semi. The rain and wind continued through the night, making rest for Doug, crashed out in the passenger seat difficult, although Hempstead slept soundly in the sleeper compartment.
“Thirty-minute warning!” The security agent yelled.
“Bright and early,” Ezra said, pulling back the black curtain. “Best get ready for the road. Breakfast will be first-come, first served. We need to get movin’.”
“This normal?” Doug asked, pulling on his boots.
“No such thin’ as normal anymore.”
The temperatures outside the truck were bitterly cold, more typical of early December in the Great Plains than mid-September.
“This’ll be a real long, shitty day,” Ezra said, pulling his cap low over his eyes. “Bastards want us to drive on ice. Stupidity of the fifth power.”
“The fifth power? I don’t understand.” Doug replied as they walked to the truck stop. Hempstead stopped for a moment, and looked at him with a little smile before answering.
“Baron de Montesquieu. French philosopher, died in seventeen seventy-five. Defined the first three powers: legislative, executive and judic’ry. Ramonet expanded them: the fourth is the mass media. The fifth could be defined as the economy. Allegiance to the god of the fifth power—the economy—puts us at risk. Stupidity.”
Ezra continued towards the diner, leaving Doug stopped in his tracks. “Who are you?”
“I’ve only been a driver for six years,” Hempstead replied with a smile, looking at Doug over his shoulder as he continued to walk.
“What did you do prior to that time, if I may ask?”
“Chief operating officer of Price Pacific Technology. Before that, chief technology officer. Built it from a startup thirty-four years ago,” Ezra said as they reached the door. They got in line for breakfast.
“How…why are you…” Doug asked before Ezra cut him off.
“Ever read ‘Atlas Shrugged?’”
“Well, yeah. In high school, maybe the first year out.”
“Our company was being killed by the Federal Government. We didn’t cooperate with certain agencies that wanted access to our products, pre-release. They wanted us to build in back doors for their security snoops to spy on people. We turned ‘em down. They attacked us on the IRS side. Then they denied us other things…like medical insurance. Then our ‘environmental audits’ came up dirty. Then liens on our intellectual property. Seizure of working capital—in lieu of money claimed owin’ on unemployment accounts. All of that, they said could be wiped clean, if we cooperated. We’d seen it comin’, a long time ahead. In the space of eight hours, we erased all of the data that the Feds wanted to get their filthy mitts on, nuked the backups, hammered the hardware…let the entire staff go with a years’ severance. Then went all Galt on them. Off of their tax rolls, out of their networks. Only five of us knew enough to be useful to the Feds. Two have now passed on, the rest of us are out there in the ether.”
“So you went into trucking?” Doug asked.
“My dad ran a truckin’ business when I was a kid. Honest labor, lets me see the country,” Ezra said, picking up the breakfast tray. “Besides that, I get to meet some interestin’ people.”
Breakfast was served cafeteria style again, and consisted of reconstituted eggs, warmed over pre-cooked bacon, and some sort of canned bread and powdered butter. It was awful on all accounts, and Doug was unconcerned that any of it contained RNEW—it wasn’t up to Regent standards.
The ‘thirty-minute warning’ stretched into five and a half hours before the first truck took the road. The ice on the roads was still present, but temperatures seemed to be warming. The five or six hour trip from North Platte to Des Moines took thirteen hours, with a fueling stop in Omaha thrown in, and a complete search of the convoy for good measure.
Des Moines, Iowa
The Des Moines truck stop—this one on the far west side of the city—was in only slightly better shape than the North Platte location. The convoy arrived a little before midnight, and Doug thanked Ezra for the lift. Doug found it only moderately difficult to fall asleep—his future with Julie was now only hours away.
The truck stop had a separate wing with micro rooms to rent-generally a queen sized bed, a flat-panel television, a half-bath, small refrigerator and microwave. Doug rented one for a twelve-hour period, paying fifty dollars in gold coin, and a five-dollar tip. For five peaceful hours, Doug slept, being roused by a soft alarm he’d set on the alarm clock beside the bed. He rose and quickly showered and dressed, thinking about the day ahead.
He needed to find a way to get to the Farm without means of identification, assuming that Regent would be watching all conventional means of transport, all of which required I.D. and in many cases, governmental clearance. Being ‘afoot’ was an almost certain guarantee to be picked off or picked up, according to the now-departed Ezra Hempstead; bicycle travel—assuming he could even find one--just as risky. He’d need to find someone heading in the general direction of southeast Iowa and would have to go from there.
Dressing in more worn than serviceable clothes and a very old cap, Doug checked out of his room by six a.m. The ridiculously expensive ‘Continental Breakfast’ consisted of an English muffin with some tired peanut butter, reconstituted apple juice, and strong, black tea. He scouted out the restaurant for potential rides to the southeast.
The handful of people in the restaurant weren’t truck drivers, deliverymen or anyone that Doug thought might be a prospect for a ride. To the left, a husband, wife and three children, none of whom looked like they’d had clean clothes in a month; to the right, two solitary women dressed in heavy clothing, each holding their hot tea in both hands, trying to capture the warmth. He’d expected more people at this time of day—truckers, factory workers, farmers, starting the day off.
“You need anything else, pardner?” the cook/waiter asked Doug. The man, in his early forties, was dressed in typical short-order cook fashion, working the entire restaurant solo.
“Just lookin’ for a ride at this point,” Doug replied quietly. “Know of anyone heading out?”
The cook regarded Doug for a moment before answering. “Legit? Nope,” the man said quietly, filling Doug’s mug with more tea. “Bastard trips, yeah, for a price. Where you headin’?”
“Down south of Fairfield.”
“That’s what, damn near a hundred miles from here?” the cook asked with raised eyebrows.
“How’d ya get so far from home?”
“Coming from Denver,” Doug answered.
“Denver? Jesus Christ. You’re comin’ from the pit of evil? You a Fed?” the cook hissed. The other people in the restaurant heard clearly.
“Used to be. Long story.”
“Advice for you, pal. Lose anything that says ‘Fed’. Them’s the enemy. This place looks like it does because they’ve ‘jacked all the food trucks comin’ our way. Anyone finds out you’re a Fed, you might as well run for your life, cause they’ll just as soon kill ya as look at ya.”
“What about you?” Doug asked quietly. “Why the advice?”
“My son’s out there someplace, workin’ for the Department of Recovery. Told him two months ago to get the Hell out, but of course you can’t tell your kid what to do—they gotta figure it out for themselves. He’s thinkin’ he’s gonna be a big-shot.”
“Well, Denver’s a good place to be from. There’s a lot of bad stuff goin’ on there…most probably hasn’t made the news. I think a plane was shot down out there a couple days ago.”
“No shit. Saw the fireball and the smoke. I was supposed to fly out of there. Hitched a ride on a convoy,” Doug said. “So, any ideas on me catching a ride?”
The cook paused again for most of a minute before answering. “Yeah, I know someone. You got money, right? I mean, real money.”
“I’ve got some,” Doug replied.
“Gimme a little while,” the cook said, before heading back to the kitchen area and out of sight.
Doug fished out his Palm device, and again beat the program on the first level, lost the second and was two moves from beating the third level, when the cook came by again.
“Hundred bucks. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, barely,” Doug replied.
“Ten minutes, out that door,” the cook said pointing to the south.
“Seriously,” Doug replied.
“Yeah. A chunk of that money goes to me, by the way. So yeah, dead serious.”
Doug finished the ‘game’ again enabling the RFID tracking program, almost out of boredom, as the minutes passed. He finished his tea, took a few minutes to visit the men’s room, and then headed out the south door. A white box van emblazoned with ‘Iowa Organic’ waited, idling. The cold rain poured down beyond the overhead canopy.
“That’s the one,” the cook said, looking over Doug’s shoulder. “You don’t have the cash when they make the transfer, you’ll get busted up, though. So be damned sure you’re ready to get in that van.”
“Thanks. For everything,” Doug said, getting in the van.
“Don’t sit there, just get in the back,” the driver said, pulling away from the curb as soon as Doug closed the door. He found a seat in the back of the van, on a bench normally used for cargo. “Five minutes we go into a warehouse. You’ll pay the guys inside. You’ll then meet the driver heading wherever the Hell it is you want to go. Got it?”
Several blocks away, Doug couldn’t tell exactly where or how far they’d traveled, they pulled into a darkened door of a warehouse. The driver killed the lights and shut off the truck. Doug heard the overhead door of the warehouse close, and the warehouse lights flickered on. The rear door of the van opened from the outside.
“Good morning, Mister Peterson,” a voice said, startling Doug. Kevin Martinez, in his wheelchair, sat opposite the open door. “Welcome to Iowa.”
Doug’s heart sank, and he slumped back into his seat. ‘Regent,’ he thought. ‘They’re going to kill me.’
“Out of the van, if you would,” Martinez said. “Grab your gear.”
He did as he was told, climbing out of the van as the other men in the room went about their business.
“Come over to the office,” Martinez said. Doug was surprised that there weren’t weapons trained on him. They entered a small ‘manager’s office’ and Martinez closed the door.
“Finally getting the Hell out, huh?” Martinez asked. “Welcome back to the world,” offering his hand. Kevin Martinez was now working on a beard and had a freshly shaved head, with several tattoos on his neck and arms he’d not seen before.
Doug shook it, not quite knowing what was going on.
“You’re the last one that I figured could make it out. I’ve been wondering when you’d bail.”
“I don’t understand,” Doug said.
“Eight of us died in a plane crash two days ago, as far as the Company knows. No survivors. Went down in the storm the other night in Lake Superior, the story goes. Eventually they’ll find some wreckage.”
“I figured you were…” Doug started. “You’re not with Regent? I thought I was a dead man.”
“Regent killed my brother. Saturday morning. Captive bolt-gun to the back of the head. They don’t know I found that out. He was in Chicago at the time.”
Doug didn’t speak for a moment. “Same as Francine and Rob Dowling,” Doug said.
“Yeah. Probably the Kliests as well. Now I know who did it.”
“I’m sorry about…”
“Don’t be. He was an asshole. Still, he died only because he’s related to me. Corporate has a loose cannon and they’re cleaning things up, or so they think. I have enough on them to end it.”
“You’re…Aren’t you just as guilty?” Doug asked quietly.
“I would be in a court of law, yeah. I know too much. But what I know won’t end up in court. Some of my teams have lost family recently, dead, disappeared, whatever. Several of us were on that plane that ‘went down in the lake’. My guys are getting outfitted to hunt and kill. They’ll be starting soon,” Martinez said.
“How did you find me?”
“Damned few people heading east from Denver these days. You weren’t hard to spot on the Regent surveillance network, especially with continuous facial recognition. You disappeared though for awhile in Omaha, or so thinks Regent. You will be spotted headed to Sioux Falls, and then your electronic I.D. will go off line when the truck hits Williston, North Dakota, all according to the Regent intelligence network.”
“What?” Doug asked stupidly.
“Your escape east has been covered--by me. Regent doesn’t know that I have a slew of tunnels into their network, and that it’s pretty damned easy to manipulate their system.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Good. Then shut up and listen. If you have anything Regent, get rid of it immediately. Throw it in the microwave over there, for instance,” Martinez said, pointing to the dirty microwave on the opposite wall. “Once the lid blows from the pressure cooker, that whole company and anyone associated with it is dead. You understand?”
“Yeah,” Doug replied “How did you know…”
“Your family has a pretty nice farm. With borrowed satellite imagery, it’s easy to see who’s there and when,” Kevin said. “Where else were you going to go? Your wife’s pregnant, still there on the farm. Logical that you’d head this way. Once the system spotted you on that truck, I logged into the system, figured out the truck manifest and destination. Coming through Des Moines. Your truck pinged every single receiver on the highway and just confirmed location and arrival time in Des Moines. Three truckstops left in the city, only one on the east side. It wasn’t difficult. The two ladies in the restaurant helped I.D. you for me. Twenty dollar gold piece and you can buy a lot of friendship.”
“Who are these people?” Doug said, pointing to the warehouse workers.
“Normal people, hoping to make a buck. They’re good at getting stuff where it needs to be and getting it there without legal interference.”
Doug sat in one of the worn office chairs, unable to think of what to do next.
“Bit much to take in one big bite, I think,” Kevin Martinez said, passing Doug a worn flask. “Take a shot of that.”
Doug did, without thinking too much about it. The liquor was absurdly smooth and unlike anything he’d ever consumed. Spiced with something. “What is that?” Doug said, passing it back to Martinez.
“Moonshine. From a little town in North Carolina.”
“Yeah. Tough to get unless you’ve got connections,” Martinez said, taking a drink himself.
“You’re in the ‘shine business now?” Doug said.
“Now? You mean ‘still’. We all need a little sideline. Provides me a certain layer of security, otherwise not available to me in my former employ. It’ll also conveniently provide you a ride not far from your farm.”
“I really don’t know what to say,” Doug said. “I have a million questions.”
“You’ve got about five minutes, and you’re on that outbound Freightliner. Make them good questions.”
Doug didn’t know whether he should completely trust Martinez or not. This could all be an elaborate ruse…there was no way to be sure either way.
“Who is your target? The people that killed my friends?” Doug asked, quickly coming to the correct conclusion that this was the most important thing he could ask.
“Class A dickhead in Columbus. Currently a V.P. by the name of Holdren.” The name triggered Doug’s memory.
“I’ve met him. Along with his boss…Slocum, and another V.P. by the name of…Salvatore,” Doug said.
“Orders came from that office. Only that office,” Martinez said.
“You’ve not met him, or the other two?” Doug asked.
“Only Slocum, and from a distance. He seemed to think I was less of a man because I’m in a chair, or that was my impression from a ten-second introduction.”
“No, that’s a perfectly accurate impression actually. I met the three of them here at the Regent plant, back in May. Slocum didn’t talk much, but when he did…he knew things he shouldn’t normally have known, and used words like weapons. Personal attack, I mean,” Doug illustrated. “The other two, well, they seemed afraid of him.”
“He’s my number one target. Problem is, he’s been off-grid for a week. I have no idea where he is….and that’s saying something,” Martinez said. “The other two, well, they’re easy.”
“What about after that?”
“Crawl in a hole and pull a rock over me until it’s over.”
“What is the ‘it’ you’re referring to?”
“Civil war of course. You’re seriously not that dense, Peterson. You know this has been coming.”
“It’s…comforting to hear someone else say it, actually,” Doug replied.
“Coming soon. Weeks, not much longer.”
“How do you know? Why are you so sure?”
“New Republic and the President are on the same side. Think about that for a minute,” Martinez said, looking at a clipboard on his desk. “President’s going to win, unless something dramatic happens fairly soon.”
“I don’t get it. The same side…how can that possibly be the truth?”
“President is talking nothing but central control from the get-go, from top to bottom to get rid of all the ‘problems’ that have been ‘standing in the way of progress’. New Republic is pointing out exactly the same things…just blaming the Federal Government for the problems. Exactly the same things. Same side. All those purges and resignations? He’s not shuffling the deck. He’s stacking it.”
“So you’re saying the Federal Government is going to start the next Civil War?” Doug asked, taking another swig from the flask.
“Not all of the Federal Government. Just maybe the top third of it. Or more correctly, ‘a third’ of it,” Martinez said, taking the flask back and taking a drink himself.
“Why? Why on God’s green earth would they do this?”
“You can only fool the people for so long. Once they start to figure it out, or once the whole thing is about to blow, you need to step in and make sure you stay on top of the heap. That’s all it is—maintaining power. Absolute, unquestioned power. Here and globally,” Martinez said. “You better get moving. That’s your driver,” he said, pointing to the window of the office, where a man was looking in, tapping his watch.
“Good luck, Doug. Hope you have a good life,” he said, shaking Doug’s hand again.
“Thank you, Kevin. I hope you do as well.”