Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 16



16








Tuesday night,
October Twenty-fourth,
8:50 p.m.

We were all sort of shell-shocked I think, as we watched the local rebroadcast of our ‘president’ address the ‘nation.’   I wondered in silence how many viewers had seen this charade and believed it wholly.

My discernment, or newly formed prejudice, I couldn’t decide which, was affecting what I was viewing. More than once I caught myself making snap judgments on half-completed sentences that the ‘president’ was delivering. Maybe it was fatigue, I just couldn’t tell.

“…dominant force in the  recovery of the world. We will be the leaders of this arduous task and ask the nation to support these efforts,” he said as overly enthusiastic applause rang out in the Denver convention center. I wondered, how much of the applause was recorded?

“You buying any of this, Rick?” Ron asked me. Libby was watching from behind, giving him a shoulder massage.

“Sure. The same way the Italians bought Mussolini’s schtick.”

“….strong Federal leadership of state industry, nationalization of former major agribusinesses, redoubled effort in the revitalization of the honored military, and an American based economy that will operate independently of other nations, vigilance in the status of religious factions that are hostile to the ideal of the United States….”

“What a load. Nationalization of industry,” I said, pondering the meaning.

“Just wait. I’m sure it gets better,” Alan said, his son Mark asleep on his lap. “And it’s not just industry. It’s nationalization of business. You caught that bit, buried in the flowers of prosperity.”

“And ‘vigilance of religious factions hostile to our ideals,’ don’t forget that,” I said. 

“Those opposing the Federal mandates are misguided and fail to understand the depth of the crisis at hand, and that the only solution to the lack of progress in recovery is in the full support of Federal efforts to unify industry and national ideals.  They will eventually come into the fold and understand the need for national and international recovery and unification…”

“Told ya,” Alan said.

“He can’t be serious,” Karen asked.

“Dead serious. The true believers always are, to their adoring public at least,” I said. “Re-education camps, I think China called them.”

“…military forces are fully capable of protecting the strategic resources in the United States and her territories, and willing to use whatever force necessary in order to see recovery through….”

“Now the threat,” I said. “Hitting all the bases tonight, aren’t we?” I asked to no one in particular.

“…dissent is a vital part of a healthy, free state.  However the dissent cannot be allowed to interrupt the mission of the state in the recovery efforts and future progress…”

“Thou shall not criticize the State, nor her minions, nor her policies, nor her actions,” I said, more to myself.  “Welcome to Fascist States of America.”


Wednesday morning,
October Twenty-fifth,
5:40 a.m.
I didn’t get much sleep, despite being bone tired and bothered by aches and pains.  I knew that Karen didn’t sleep much either. We spent a fair chunk of the night holding each other, occasionally whispering about all that was on our minds.

Buck finally decided that we needed company, and hopped up on the bed, soon joined by Ada. Welcome for a few minutes, but soon enough they were pushing us out of the way.

Neither Karen nor I felt the hard-charging enthusiasm to attack the day, knowing that ‘working the problem’ was far beyond our abilities to make much of an impact. After a hot shower, I anticipated an ‘average’ day. ‘Average’ of course, for anyone in the world whose country was coming apart at the seams…again. So many things were up in the air.

Karen made us some tea for an early breakfast, and a couple English muffins with real butter. Then, for me it was off to the barn for morning chores.

Egg production had fallen off fairly dramatically with the sudden cool weather, despite the lights we’d added to the henhouses, and our makeshift (ugly, but effective) insulation for the turkey and chicken houses and the pigs down at Pauliano’s.

Our own food storage (‘ours’ being our extended family on the block and our new, hand-picked neighbors) met only some of the goals that I’d set forever ago, this past spring. Potatoes had been phenomenally successful, with almost ten tons harvested, all of them the hard way, by hand. Wheat was a disappointment, I’d expected far too great a yield, and had probably been fortunate to get a little over twenty bushels per acre. Old-time dry land farmers said that we’d done quite well to get that much.  Corn did quite well, but it was a near thing. We harvested our last picking just as it turned really cold.  The term ‘we’ was figurative. I was bedridden at the time. 

Similarly, I missed the late grape harvest, Concords mostly. We enjoyed table grapes in early August, which didn’t make it out of the neighborhood. The Concords furnished us juice and jam, from nearly a hundred gallons of pressed juice. The press was put together using a hydraulic press (in a former life used for pressing in wheel bearings in our neighbors’ well equipped shop), a basket and pressing boards of white oak, and a stainless steel pot to capture the juice.  I’d gone long on ‘tools’ of all kinds for more than fifteen years, along with more spare parts than we’d ever need.   Only some had been used in the food production over the past year—it was clear that I’d overbought on many items.  I did have a soft spot for forged tools, which was right up there with cast iron cookware.

Our tree fruit harvest was good, not great, but good. We couldn’t keep ahead of it once it all started coming on. Still though, we’d dehydrated and canned more than we could reasonably expect to use in a year. Cherries, peaches, pears, apples. In the midst of dealing with a monster cherry and peach harvest (by our standards, monstrous, anyway, our tomatoes almost buried us. We traded hundreds of pounds of them, with our preferred traders and friends getting first pick. The rest, we sold in the stores.

The list went on and on. A hundred pounds of nuts- almost all English walnuts. Two tons of squash and pumpkins all needing proper storage and storage space. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries (a disappointment!), melons….

We used all of our stockpile of canning jars, and then some. Next year, canning lids would be an issue…..along with looking for a new greenhouse skin. Our small greenhouse was in tatters, and we had a year or two on two others. Those at least were skinned with newer commercial-grade material.


“How many?” Karen asked.

“Fourteen,” I answered, shaking off the cold. “Put them in the rack in the shop.”

“Half of yesterday morning.”

“Yeah. Remember way back when, with our first flock? We didn’t get any eggs after the first snow?”

“I know. That’ll be coming,” Karen said. “You going into work today?”

“I expect so….but is the curfew still on?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know. Nothing on radio, AM, FM or shortwave. Nothing on TV. And I mean, nothing!”

“Hmmm. Odd. I’ll call in,” I said, already heading to the County radio. “One eleven to Spokane.”

Nothing.

“Repeating, one eleven to Spokane.”  Karen was looking at me with the question-concern look on her face. She didn’t like this either.

“One-eleven, be advised this is a compromised channel,” Arlene Lomax replied.

“Understood.”

“Spokane out.”

“What was that?” Karen asked. “Compromised by who?”

“I have absolutely no idea. Nor do I have any idea of what to do next.”

“Expect someone to show up in person. That’s what I’d do.”

I exhaled deeply. “I’m so damned tired of this drama.”

“I’ll get your things. Your boots are by the hall tree.”

“Thanks.”

Carl and Kelly were up and moving about the time the Humvee showed up in the driveway, followed by two more. I hugged the kids and gave them a few marching orders for the day, knowing that any plans that I had for a ‘routine’ day were out the window. A dozen soldiers dismounted and dispersed along the street, four more moved into the yard as a young Lieutenant came to the door where I met him.

“Mr. Drummond? Lieutenant Michael West. Would you mind coming with me sir?” I gave Karen a quick kiss and reached for my pack.

“You stay safe, mister,” she said in a whisper.

“I will endeavor to do just that,” I said before responding to the young officer.

“Expected you, Lieutenant. Where to?”

“Camp Overbeck, sir.”

“Understood. Quite the detail you have here.”

“Orders, sir. You should get used to it—I think we’re your personal security detail from now on.”

“Seems a little over the top,” I said as we boarded the second vehicle, not the one in the driveway.

“Might be sir, might not be.” The driver pulled out, heading north. Camp Overbeck, named for a local soldier who had been killed in the Mexican War. A posthumous Medal of Honor winner, he had held off more than a thousand enemy at Monterrey, giving hundreds of wounded a route of escape before being overrun. “The lead crew stays at your home location while you’re away. Neighborhood patrols cover every occupied neighborhood in your city. Anyone gets out of line, it’s not good for them.”

“Where are you from?”

“Came in last Tuesday from Stockton on the train. Before that, New Mexico. Pre-War, Denver.”

“Denver’s a little different these days,” I said, referring to the new ‘national leadership.’

“Is at that. I’m pretty sure that won’t last long.”

“Could be. I think similar words were said in Eighteen Sixty-One, too, though.”

“Right enough. The Cold Civil War is over.”

“Cold Civil War?”

“All the bitching about how it’s Us versus Them.  Liberals versus conservatives. R versus D.  All of it.”

“I hadn’t really put a label to it, but that sure works.”

“Divide and conquer.”

“Well, they’ve divided.  The latter remains in question,” I said.

We’d passed over the remains of the freeway, now a single plowed lane with no signs of traffic past two static Army guard posts.  Ten minutes later, we were through the gates.

Inside one of the former industrial buildings, I was directed to a Spartan conference room, given some lousy coffee, and asked to wait. This building was on the south side of the old Industrial Park, a different building than one I’d visited back in May. This cavernous building used to house a furniture manufacturer, by the signs on the cracked walls.

A few minutes later, Elaine Cross and several junior officers joined me.

“Morning, Major,” I said as I shook her hand.

“Mr. Drummond, thank you for coming. I’ve brought in several additional staff if you don’t mind. Lieutenants Cambridge, Sugimoto, and Watts.”

“Nice to meet you all,” I said, shaking hands with each.  Watts could’ve been a tackle at West Point, pre-War. The female lieutenants, Cambridge and Sugimoto, reminded me of college students too, but were seemingly more attentive than Watts. “Major, I’m hoping you can enlighten me on what’s going on right now….”

“I’ll try, yes. For your information, I’ve already briefed the Sheriff and his senior staff.”

“Good to know.”

“Since twenty-three thirty last night, there has been widespread disruption of all local communication frequencies with false alarms, false orders, and fake news broadcasts on shortwave frequencies, and some fake broadcasts overriding the local radio frequency signals, appearing therefore to be legitimate. We’ve shut down all local radio and television stations and all municipal frequencies in order to hunt down those responsible.”

“How do you possibly do that?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, but I can say, we do it pretty well.”

“When, assuming there’s a when, can we get back to normal operations? I can’t see the County operating with anything close to efficiency without good communications.”

“Unsure at present. That’s only one facet of the attacks we’re undergoing at the moment. The others include attacks on infrastructure, including power distribution, petroleum distribution, shipping…”

“Pretty much everything then.”

“Well, to summarize, yes.”

“Responsible parties?”

“Federal forces have infiltrated non-aligned states and are carrying out attacks from within. Those states that did not immediately align with the new Federal bureaucracy have been hit hardest. Those that caved, not at all.”

“Pre-positioned forces.”

“Not only forces, but equipment, targets, and strategies.”

“Local damage so far?”

“I can speak to that, sir,” Lieutenant Watts replied.

“Please do.”

Watts read me the details from a clipboard. “Explosives used on three substations served from Upriver Dam, resulting in minor damage to four feeder lines. Two municipal radio repeater installations destroyed by improvised explosives. Five separate attacks by small arms on municipal facilities including your office building, two shops facilities, and two community centers, neither of which were occupied….the attackers in three of the five cases were killed by local defense forces. The attack on the Montana and Wyoming refineries, which I believe you heard about last night, more of a regional impact of course, but certainly one that will be felt here almost immediately. Two severed railroad bridges across the Columbia River, and a third blocked due to an engineered landslide in Western Montana. Those are the ones we know about as of oh six-hundred.”

“Casualties?”

“None in these specific attacks. An undetermined number of civilian municipal personnel—meaning firemen, police, state patrol—are unaccounted for.”

“Unaccounted for?”

“Did not report for duty this morning. Military forces are checking on them at this time, but we’re stretched pretty thin.”

“Dammit,” I said, looking down at my poor excuse for coffee.

“Mr. Drummond, I believe you met with a United States Attorney, by the name of Charles Severa recently?”   Lieutenant Cambridge asked.

“Yeah, a couple weeks ago. He wanted to let us know that the Feds were taking four of our prisoners to Denver for interrogation…” I said, putting things together. “Now wait one damned minute. He was in on this?”

“No reason to believe so, although Mr. Severa has been detained in the Salt Lake area and is being questioned. After the prisoner transfer to Denver, he was reassigned to Utah. We have reason to believe that several of those prisoners are back in this region and are deeply involved in the effort to undermine legal authority.”

I sat there for a minute, rolling it over in my head.  “You are certain that they are not in Federal custody….”

“We are,” Major Cross responded.

“Then it’s a safe wager that yeah, they’re back, and whatever parts of their organization that we didn’t wipe out is back and making hay. I assume you know who you’re up against with the four that Severa kicked loose,” I said, now not buying the plausibility of Severa not knowing what would happen to four sadistic murderers.

“We do, in detail.”

“Then you also know about the threat that Ronnie Burkham and his pals represent. He threatened to gut Judge McNamara at his arraignment.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well let me give you some more background. That sonofabitch executed unarmed soldiers, killed two veteran deputies, and was part of an effort to take ME out. He tortured the Guardsmen before shooting them in the heads, in front of their families.”

“Yes, sir, we know all of this.”

“Well, let me tell you one more little tidbit. I’m probably the one who killed his Aunt Rae.  She was the ringleader of the whole deal.  Pretty good chance that I’m the one that blew her head off out at their place at Newman Lake,” I said. “So I’d be most appreciative of you putting a bullet in his head and letting me sleep a little better at night.”

“We have three thousand troops on duty in the region, soon to be double that.  We are confident that we will apprehend him soon,” Cambridge said. Pretty girl, I thought, but na├»ve.

“Lieutenant, pardon my skepticism, but if somebody wants you dead, you’re dead. There’s not a damned thing you can do to stop someone who’s determined to kill you.”   I turned my attention back to Major Cross.  “Major, I know it’s early in the day to ask these questions, but exactly what is the war plan that Northwest Command has brewing?”

“It’ll come out soon enough, but expect more transportation and utility disruptions until the Federal government can be defeated.”

“OK, already expected that. What are you planning for manpower and support from the civilian population? Draft? Food and housing? What exactly?”

“There is a significant chance of a draft or outright military conscription being put in place should initial counterattacks fail to bring the Feds around. I would expect that the age ranges would be between eighteen and sixty.”

“Sixty? Good God.”

“With the attrition we’ve had within the past year, I say that with a high degree of confidence,” Elaine said.

“Mr. Drummond, in looking at your Federal personnel file…” Watts began before I cut him off.

“Lieutenant, I have no personnel file,” I said, knowing that an ancient past was about to be unearthed, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“Excuse me sir, I obtained this through DoD databases showing your experience in….”

“Lieutenant, first, that was a long time ago. Second, it ended badly for all parties involved, and I was among lucky few to survive it.  Third, I swore an oath to never, ever bring it up again. Period. No one I know now knows how I spent that first year out of college, and I have had no contact with any other party involved since my resignation. Understood?”

“Yes, sir, I understand. However, your file has been continuously updated since the events in the Sudan and the retrieval of your ground team.”

“And you’ve reviewed the file?”

“That which was not redacted, sir, yes.”

“Who in Hell would care what I’ve been doing for the past twenty-plus years?”

“The Defense Intelligence Agency, sir.”

I sat there for probably a full minute before answering. “They do realize that I worked for them for what, eleven months? Exactly forty-two days in the field? The last nine of which are code-word classified for eternity?”

“I’m sure they do, sir.”

“Lieutenant, what would possess you to even look for a file in my ancient past?”

“All public officials and responsible parties are being vetted, sir, to determine a confidence and trust level.”

“This is not the Soviet Union, ladies and gentlemen. You do believe this though, that you need to background check every public official to have confidence in them?”

“There were some unfortunate incidents in other states where seemingly trusted officials handed over the keys to the Feds, Mr. Drummond,” Lieutenant Sugimoto said. “We need to keep that from happening here.”

“Well rest assured, Lieutenant, I didn’t damned near get killed in some Godforsaken armpit valley in Africa well before you were born, just to cave in to the fascisti at this point.”

“No, sir, I’m sure you wouldn’t. I’m here however, to serve as a liaison officer during the vetting process of all Metro employees and volunteer staff.”

“You’re going that deep? That’s what, eight percent of our population?” 

“Yes, sir, approximately.”

I inhaled, reflecting on the conversation. “Major, how do you intend us to operate as a public services provider without comms?”

“The bulk of public communications should be back up in twenty-four hours.  I would anticipate numerous delays in restoring levels of high confidence in police, fire and municipal communications. We basically need to target them and catch them in the act. Problem is they transmit and shut down before we can find them.”

“So can’t we rotate freq’s often enough to operate?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” Sugimoto replied, “after your communications staff has been cleared.”

“You know what this is going to do to morale, Elaine?” I asked, using her first name for the first time. “Everyone looking at everyone else like they’re the spy?”

“Yes, but it beats the alternative. In the case of communication frequencies, imagine if someone’s feeding the next days’ freqs to the enemy?”

“Fine. I concede that there may be a need. I hate the idea.”



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