Thursday, January 7, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 13


Tuesday morning,
October Twenty-Fourth

I woke up before sunrise again, my side hurting again, although sharper today. Finally I decided to get up, after thrashing around for half an hour. I heard the wind above my head, and wondered what magic weather system we were going to experience today. Karen slept soundly, even with both dogs doing their morning ‘shake’ and stretch. I could make it on a couple hours of sleep, it seemed I’d been doing it for months, with or without pain meds, prescription or improvised.   Anything more than three hours of continuous sleep, since August, was something that I regarded as a very rare luxury.

I’d set my clothing out the night before in the bath, anticipating a relatively normal day. Looking out the bathroom window, I could see that we had a clear morning coming, even if it was windy.  Some of the recent snow was drifting up around the fences, and our path to the woodshed was all but invisible.

After my shower, I made my way to the kitchen, and remembered our old tradition of breakfast for our soldiers guarding “our” store, or watching our backs for us right after the Domino. I decided that whatever troops might be watching over us might appreciate something other than whatever reconstituted or military chow they were eating these days.

It’d been a long time since I’d made a frittata, but today was the best day to do it, since it was the first day I’d thought of it.  I stretched my memory back to remember how big a ‘squad’ was. Nine or ten guys…or gals…depending, I thought, on mission. Ancient knowledge from my early twenties came back to me. Knowledge that I’d just as soon not have memory of at all and had done my best to forget.  Seven months, sixteen days in duration. An eternity to forget.  It was three years before the regular nightmares ended….

The best thing about my frittata recipe is that it was pretty much built from whatever was on hand, whenever I decided to make it. Kind of a fluid thing.

“Three frittatas,” I said to Buck, who was looking for breakfast. “No, probably four. Enough for us and our friends in green. Buck, do you know where Mom keeps those extra skillets?”

He looked at me of course, as if I’d asked him, ‘Would you like a nice, fresh steak?’

“Didn’t think so, thanks.”

The recipe today would be a variable design of necessity. I knew we had dried peppers, whole and dried onions, eggs, Joe’s proprietary Italian sausages, some bacon cooked up a day or two before wrapped up in the fridge, fresh milk and cream, dried parsley, oregano and rosemary, and some local cheese that passed for Parmesan.  And some fresh wheat mini-loaves that Kelly had made yesterday…and some butter. The real thing these days expensive, but so much better than margarine from the old days.

I dug out the necessary gear, finding it after some searching. I’d never really figured out Karen’s kitchen stashing methods after I’d remodeled the kitchen five years before, which had only changed again with new cabinets in half of the kitchen this year after the Domino.

A half hour later, I was loading the oven with two of the four cast iron skillets, the third ready to go, when Karen came in, complete with fuzzy slippers and thick robe.

“Forget to start the fire? It’s freezing in here! Frittata? What’s the occasion? It’s been years.”

“I was awake, and thought our local protectors might like something other than mil chow. Sorry about the fire.”

“You like taking care of them,” she said as she snuck up behind me and wrapped me up in a big hug.

“Reason to,” I replied. “They keep us free,” I said, remembering again to myself, a group of nameless men that once saved me and a few others half a world away.

Breakfast was a little after seven, or a little before sunrise today, and we served our nine guardians in shifts of five and four. I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble with their higher-ups, so some of them stayed technically ‘on guard’ while the others ate. Karen was her traditional self as gracious hostess, with Carl and Kelly providing outstanding service as servers and coffee-deliverers—the real thing, from a stash of Costa Rican coffee that went back to pre-War days. Once I had put the last skillet in the oven I’d prodded the kids out of bed and filled them in on our morning task, and what other surprises were coming our way this day. I was able to sit and talk to the young men and women, have some coffee and frittata, some bread and butter, and wait for the day.

Elaine Cross arrived just as the last of the guys finished up, all of who quickly came to attention as soon as their C.O. came into the room, one apologizing.

“At ease. You’re off duty. It’s oh eight-ten.”

“Yes, ma’am,” was the common response, but for one young soldier.

“Ma’am, there is a serving for you.”

“Left me a little, Jenkins? You must still be cruising for that three-day.”  She was all command officer now, sharp and determined.

“No ma’am, this is outstanding chow. That’s all.”

“Then I assume that you’ve shown your hosts proper gratitude. Grab your gear and get back to camp. You’ve enjoyed enough civilian hospitality for a while. Back on shift at sixteen hundred. Inside duty though—you get to be bank guards.”

“What the...” Cross cut off her subordinate.

“Civilians present, Patterson.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“Move it. I want your report on my desk by oh nine-hundred.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A few minutes later and the squad was gathered up and headed back to the old Industrial Park, where the Forty-First had a fair number of men and women billeted. Their ‘air ops’ unit, or what was left of it, was still at Felts Field. Only a few of the helos were used, and sparingly, due to spare parts issues—specifically, rotor blades and avionics.  They had converted a fair number of fixed-wing private planes for observation platforms though, and we’d see them up once in awhile.

“Elaine, thanks for coming over. You seem to have a good unit there,” I said.

“One of my best. Not that you should tell them that. I don’t want them slacking off. You serve?”

“Nope. Diehard civilian,” I said, which was technically true, I reminded myself. ‘Why was I still thinking about those days?’ “Let me get you a cup of coffee.”

Karen and Elaine talked over breakfast, where both were able to relax a little.  I dished myself up, slathered a half of the mini-loaf of wheat bread with honey-butter, and joined them. And then remembered coffee…

“Hon, why don’t you show Elaine the yellow house after breakfast?”

“Funny, that’s the one I was thinking of, too,” I said.  That house had belonged to a young family that evac’d, and never returned. It was one of the last houses that was put back together, needing some foundation repairs and a chimney rebuild. I’d visited during the work, but it was too much for me during my convalescence to do anything but watch….which frustrated me no end.

“I actually have to pass on your offer, at least for today,” Elaine stated. “I need Mr. Drummond to make a statement regarding the currency distribution. It’s a prepared statement that came in this morning from San Francisco.  State and local leadership is being asked to provide this statement at eleven a.m. local. You can record it ahead of time if you like. ”

“Got a copy of it?” I asked. “I’d be happy to, if it’s something that I can agree with. If not, well, then I’m not your guy.”

“I have a copy. It’s fairly tame, and appears legit.”

“Not really worried about the statement, honestly,” I said after thinking about my previous statement. “It’s the after-effects that I’m worried about. What happens to any population, let alone the ten month long adventure that this part of the country has had, when you do something like this?”

“I have no idea. I don’t think anyone does,” Elaine said.

“We’d have to go back to other countries that tried this, but I can’t think of one where a legitimate currency was introduced—meaning of course, one backed by silver or gold. Each time that, at least as I remember, a country issued ‘new’ currency it was still paper with different numbers. And you had riots. Argentina comes to mind, but I don’t really remember that in much detail,” I said.

“Elaine, I’m wondering if you have any news on last night’s action over in Idaho. Heard anything?”

“Not officially. What I did hear was that they didn’t surrender. First pass took out their command post, which resulted in hostile fire towards our ground units and active jamming of inbound aircraft. Second pass took care of the jammers and whatever EMP device they were using. Ground troops are mopping up, but have had no casualties so far.”

“Small comfort,” I said. “The older I get, the less I understand.”

“In what way?” Elaine replied.

“How, in this country, we have come to this,” I said, staring into my coffee mug more than I ought.

“Lust for power, greed, and control of others.”

“Sure, those have always been around though. It just seems different now, in that there are those that see literally no consequences to their actions anymore, that acting outside of the law, any law, is OK.”

“Absolute corruption, manifest in elements of the general population, on exhibit for all to see. Checks and balances are gone. All that is left, for them anyway, is the opportunity to expand their kingdoms,” Elaine said.

“You seem to have experience here, dealing with this type of group,” Karen said, forearms on the table, hands holding the coffee mug that Carl had made her in first grade.

“There are groups like this scattered all over the West. Command knows what they’re up against. The quiet alliances that keep to themselves and stay within the bounds of the law hardly make the radar unless they did something pre-War to get on the list that Homeland Security had going. They went long on investing in weapons, raw materials, components that might be assembled into something greater than a pile of parts. Many groups though, have elements that are significantly hostile to the interests of the United States. Those groups ARE on the radar screen. Some know their days are numbered. Some groups, maybe like this one, I don’t know. The leadership in this group seems to think that they were above the law on all levels.  They found out otherwise.”

“I think I heard yesterday that this group had connections—high connections,” I said.

“They did. Intricate and deep connections to European and the old American financial system, insurance, real estate, Democrat, Green, and Republican party leadership positions on national and state levels.  Connections in religion, industry, pharmaceuticals, and the military.”

“The repercussions ought to be damned interesting to watch play out,” I said.

“I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘interesting.’  ‘Dangerous’ might be more appropriate. And we’re smack dab on the front lines.”

“Well we do live in interesting times…” I said, heading to the kitchen for cleanup duty, and to get another cup of coffee.

Elaine chatted with Karen as I cleaned up the disaster that I’d made in the kitchen. Alan and Mary joined us for late coffee, after hearing that the curfew was extended throughout the day, and Carl and Kelly had politely taken some of the last frittata, warmed it up in the dented microwave, and retreated back to their rooms on hearing that the curfew had limited their normal routine. I’m sure there’d be plenty for them to do around the house anyway.
Both of our kids had really applied themselves--I couldn’t forget Marie and John though, as I knew that they were exceeding all expectations---in their home-schooling and their limited classroom time at the local composite school, excelling past where they would have with pre-War classes. Carl should have been in ‘sophomore’ classes, but in reality was midway through where a ‘junior’ would be, and was also taking ‘senior’ level classes, and would be near the top of his class, should University High School still operate as a twelve-hundred student organization, or Central Valley School District still exist at all. Valley Composite was akin to a small community school, with kindergarten through high school, as well as some college-level classes that were more real-world lessons in practical matters of medical care, food preservation and animal husbandry. Six composite schools in the Valley area, six more within the old borders of the City of Spokane, and scattered schools around the county in resurgent small towns. If we could get better transportation going on a larger scale without feeling we were risking life or precious fuel unnecessarily, we might actually get to have organized sports teams compete again. Wouldn’t that be something.
The radio in the kitchen provided much rumor and little news of the overnight news blackout, yet no excuse or reason. There were reports of fighting gained through shortwave, in New York City, New Jersey, Richmond, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. No reports of fighting west of the Mississippi.
By nine, the kitchen had been restored to a semblance of its former self, although I’m sure Karen would be hunting for an implement or three the next time she cooked.  Given the interruption in the daily routine, I decided to pack up the kids and head to the community center. They could spend a little time with at the orphanage, I could take care of the speech maybe I could end up back at the store in the afternoon. Maybe I could just goof off for a change and hang out.  Karen and Elaine, as well as Alan and Mary were talking, although now in the living room, about all the work we’d done to put our house back together.

“Don’t worry—your place didn’t get hit as hard as this one did. And I didn’t work on the repairs over there. So you have a better than average chance that things are done right,” I said in my self-deprecating tone.

“Nonsense. You’re a good contractor,” Karen said.

“If slow equals good maybe.”

“Quit now,” Karen said.

“Anyway, it’s a nice place. We can look at it later. Everyone ready?” I asked.

“Should be,” Karen said. “We’ll follow you over. I think you’re supposed to go escorted.”

“He is,” Elaine said. “Although we can bend the rules a little.”

“I’m good at that,” I said.

I had an audience for the address, including most of the Community Center duty staff and my family. The speech was recorded by one of the “com Nazi’s”—an Air Force communication specialist, as labeled by one of the Army captains. In the former state of the military, our recording engineer was assigned to a combat communications squadron based out at Four Lakes, west of Fairchild. These days he was reduced to recording a speech by a low level reluctant bureaucrat for the consumption of a probably disinterested public. 

“Good morning, this is Rick Drummond, Administrator for Spokane County. I’m speaking to you this morning regarding several issues, the first of which comes from the United States Government. At this hour, a similar address is being made to the rest of the country by local officials, regarding the distribution of new legal currency that will begin within the next few days across the country. I am reading, by the way, from a prepared statement that was provided to me, and I have reviewed this document and if what has been provided to me is in fact true, I believe that this may be a significant step in the economic recovery of the United States.”
“At this hour, transports are arriving in major cities with new Federal currency in the form of silver and gold coins, which have been designed as an update to historic legal tender in the United States and her territories. These coins include silver coinage virtually identical to ninety-percent silver coinage in wide circulation until Nineteen Sixty-four in standard denominations; and gold coins in general circulation until it was confiscated in the First Great Depression.  Gold coinage will be provided in limited quantities in denominations from One Dollar to Twenty Dollars. On January First, printed currency redeemable on demand for silver or gold will be available in limited locations. By July first, these new currencies will be fully implemented nationwide.”
“Within the next two weeks, a one-time distribution of two hundred dollars will be made to every man and woman over the age of sixteen years of age, across the nation and within territories and protectorates. It is the intention of the Federal Government that these monies be used to help jump-start local economies through the purchase of needed goods and services, and that these funds remain in circulation. These funds will be distributed through new Federal Banks that will be established nationwide.  Specific distribution instructions will be distributed nationwide within the next few days. This ends the formal statement provided to me. I do have some additional comments if you would bear with me,” I said, going off script.
“Everyone in this community has faced adversity. That adversity sometimes comes at the hands of your neighbors. Everyone in this community needs to be able to depend on their neighbor for their safety and security. We are really a mutual aid society. If you cannot do this, then none of us are really safe—I’m deadly serious here. You need to be able to trust your immediate neighbors with your life. There are those among us responsible for looting, for theft, for robbery, for murder. As long as these people are among the peaceful and law-abiding citizens of this county, and of this region, you are not safe. These people need to be identified and held accountable. For some of you, these are your neighbors. You know where and who they are. Every neighborhood has a police or sheriff’s precinct several have National Guard militia centers. If you need help, please use the law enforcement resources you have available. If you need to defend yourself, do so. But do so within reason.  We need to work together to ensure that this County is ruled by law, not by fear, not by armed force, not by threats. I suspect there are far more firearms in the hands of the private citizen than either the police and the military, and that is the way it ought to be.”
“We face a long winter obviously. We’re rebuilding our economy, and we have sufficient supplies of food, even though it’s not all that exciting in variety. There are more physical dollars in circulation. With physical money, and an understandable desire to keep it close and keep it safe, there comes increased risk for everyone. Be prudent, be cautious, be safe with your money. To those among us that see this as an opportunity to relieve your neighbors of their money, remember this: You may be paying for that mistake with your life.”
“Every adult over the age of sixteen has been required over the past few months to undergo firearms training. The vast majority of adults ‘carry.’ Don’t think for a minute that punishment for robbery or theft will be treated in pre-War terms. It won’t. Punishment is severe and swift once law enforcement officers are engaged but more likely punishment might be meted out at the hand of your intended victim.  A number of those caught in theft and robbery do survive though, to serve a lengthy sentence turning large chunks of broken concrete in to gravel, cleaning twisted rebar of concrete, and assignments in some of the most difficult or unpleasant areas imaginable. So please do consider your path carefully.”

“Thank you, and as I stated earlier, additional information will be forthcoming on our new currency. Good day.”

“Got it. Good job, sir. One take and you’re outta here.”

“I hate public speaking. Face for radio and all.”

The airman laughed at that. “Me too, sir. Broadcast will go out at eleven hundred. Want a copy?”

“Nope. Not even a little bit. Thanks, though,” I said as I stood to go.

“No problem, sir. Have a good day.”

‘That’d be a welcome change.’ I thought to myself.

Outside of Kevin Millers’ partially glassed office, my entourage waited, minus our kids.

“Where’d the kids end up?”

“Orphanage. Rousing game of duck-duck-goose,” Karen said as we headed down the hall.

“We good to go, Kevin? Elaine?”

“Far as I’m concerned, yes,” Elaine replied. “I need to go look at a house,” she said, looking over at Karen.

“Kevin? Things going OK today?”

“No more thefts, which is a good thing. Might have something to do with fresh snow and tracks….”

“Or it might have something to do with the desert-camo Bradley in the front lot,” Alan said with a chuckle, referring to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle parked in a relatively aggressive manner.

“Funny how that works,” Kevin said.

“All Centers have a temporary detachment at least until curfew’s been lifted. All storehouses too,” Elaine said.

“That’s gotta leave you stretched pretty thin,” Kevin replied.

“Most are manned by neighborhood militiamen, so not to worry,” Elaine said.  “Let’s go look at that house,” she urged.  She and Karen headed down to round up our kids as Alan and I waited.

“Kevin, let us know if you need anything,” I said as I shook hands with him.

“I’ll do that. I’ll be talking with your cohorts later this week with some candidates for you. Got some good ones in the last in-migration.”

“Good to hear. Made it through your pre-screening, huh?” I asked.

“Or I wouldn’t be talking about them. Yep.”

“Thanks. I…we owe you.”

“No prob. See you later,” he said as he headed back to his office.

“Ayup,” I replied, echoing my late father.

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