Thursday, January 21, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 18


Thursday morning,
November Sixteenth
10:00 a.m.

We were finally on our way out the door, gathered up for the drive over to Fort Overbeck, now upgraded from ‘Camp’ status.  Today was a milestone day. John Martin would take his oath of enlistment in the Army, along with dozens of other draftees.  Their notices had been hand-delivered on Veteran’s Day.   Alan, Mary and the kids stayed with Grace, who was in declining health.  The stores were manned today by our employees, and I took the day off from the Metro offices to attend.   Elaine Cross, now a neighbor, had also asked me to meet with her after the swearing-in ceremony.

I was able to drive the family, today in an old tarted-up Suburban, complete with pinstripes, fender flares, and running boards. Pre-Domino, I’m sure this would have fit in nicely hauling a similarly painted golf cart to the golf courses at Meadowwood or Indian Canyon by a retiree who wintered in Palm Desert.  We were escorted by a freshly painted, olive-drab Toyota pickup, modified for Army use. It looked like one of the African ‘technicals’, but better built and armored.  I couldn’t go anywhere these days without my PSD—personal security detail.

Our weather hadn’t really improved a whole lot, with little snow left on the ground after a ‘Pineapple Express’ had melted most of our snow pack before re-freezing.  That little adventure resulted in numerous roof collapses despite the efforts of the Metro staff and constant warnings through the media to building owners and squatters. Five people had been killed as a result, with several more missing in a building collapse and subsequent five-alarm fire, two blocks from one of our stores.  Today, and for most of the past week, we had low overcast, temperatures in the twenties, and predictions of heavy snow that never came to pass.
At the Fort, formerly the Spokane Industrial Park, we found ourselves in a fairly long line of military and civilian vehicles waiting to gain access. The fort was at Threatcon Charlie today, and bounced between Charlie and Delta depending on the threats that Northwest Command perceived after the Second Civil War began on October Twenty-fourth.  

Finally we were nearing the gate, and could see the entry process a little better. I’d been briefed on it as a part of the ‘day job’, but hadn’t been to Fort Overbeck since the early days of the War.

“This looks interesting,” Ron said from the right front passenger seat, looking at the emplacements flanking the main gate, backed up by secondary heavy weapons emplacements on the far side of the vehicle inspection area.

“No joke,” I said, seeing a Chevy sedan in the inspection area being searched rather rigorously.

“They’re doing every car?” Libby asked.

“Looks as if,” I said. “Had some trouble down at a Guard base in Bend. Car bomb went off at the main gate. They upgraded security right after that, command-wide.”

Karen, seated in the front-middle, looked anxious.

“It’s OK, hon.”

“If you say so. I have a hard time believing that though.”

“Brave new world.”


We were waved to the left, rather than to the right with most of the other cars, into a separate marshalling area, this one screened off from the gate by what I recognized as a ballistic grade, anti-ram wall.

“Special treatment?” Ron asked.

“No idea,” I said. “I’m pretty much new here, too.”

The sergeant in our escort vehicle parked in a space as directed by one of the five M.P.’s in the lot, and directed us to park five stalls further in.

“Mr. Drummond and party?” a rather gruff M.P. asked as I opened my door.

“Yes, Sergeant.  I’m assuming we were expected.”

“You were, sir. Please leave the vehicle here and proceed through that sally port. Everyone is being screened for the ceremony.” 

“Uh, Sarge? Several of us are carrying.”

“You can check your weapons at the sally port. Lockers are provided. Any long guns?”

“Well, yes.”

“You can leave them in the vehicle. Once you are all out and the vehicle is secured, no one is allowed within this area.”

“Understood. Thanks, Sarge.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

“All right, gang, let’s get a move on,” I said as the rest of the doors opened and we helped extricate our families from the back of the cavernous Chevy.

The sally port, a ‘controlled access point’ included a one-way ballistic-glass entry door beneath a large canopy, a hallway with ‘bank-teller’ like windows, again with ballistic glass, and formidable MP’s at every turn. Within a few minutes, after providing proper ID, in my case my Metro Administrator pass and my driver’s license, we were handed visitor badges and lanyards, and assigned an escort for our time at the Fort.

“Mr. Drummond? I’m Lori Sanders. I’ll be serving as your party’s escort for your visit today. Major Cross I believe has reserved some VIP seating for you and the Martins.”

“Speaking of which, and thank you for your time today of course, this is Ron Martin and his wife Liberty, and daughter Marie. Their son John will be taking the oath today. This is my wife Karen, son Carl and daughter Kelly.”

“Nice to meet you all,” Miss Sanders replied, shaking the hands of each. “I trust you didn’t have any trouble at the gate?”

“Not a bit, thank you.”

“Please, follow me. The Induction Hall is this way.  Unlike most visitors, we get to make the journey indoors.”   She reminded me of a pleasant tour guide. No uniform or rank given, I thought. Must be a civilian employee…

I noticed as we passed through a largish reception area, perhaps four-dozen cubicles to our left, fully staffed it seemed, with numerous computer screens lit up.  No identification signs were present as to the function of the staff throughout the entire building, I noted. Peculiar…

We followed our guide along the labyrinth of halls, offices, and service areas, carved out of massive warehouses built during the Second War, finally arriving at yet another former warehouse, this one converted to a large and obviously temporary auditorium.

There, we were seated in the third row, behind Blue Star and Gold Star families. We shook hands with many of them, and I hugged a few of the Gold Star families, before we were prompted to take our seats.

The large, new flag of the Republic hung on the backdrop, smaller thankfully than that burned into my mind from the movie, ‘Patton’.  The organization calling itself the legitimate national government of course adopted the traditional fifty-star flag as its own, but had quite soon after the War began, started calling itself the State of America.  No, ‘United’, no ‘s’ at the end of ‘States’, truly telling all that their government was about centrality and control, rather than of individual and states’ rights. The argument of exactly what we ‘rebels’ should call our government seemed to be settled more quickly than I would have thought, after we learned that we were in physical possession of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and most importantly, the basic premise of the United States’ founders. We were, the United States of America. ‘They’, were the S.A.

The flag however, was both new and old, modeled after the Union Army Guidon flag from the First Civil War, ours bearing twenty-seven gold stars, one for each state remaining in the Union as we recognized it. A wedge was cut out of the trailing edge of the flag represented that part of our Nation that was lost to us.  This interpretation, and perhaps the creation, was from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of our own Washington State. Someday, we would hope to retire this flag, and have fifty or more gold stars to a blue field, with red and white bars extending to their full length.

I looked over at Libby, sitting on the other side of Karen, as we waited for the volunteers to file in. ‘Oh, jeez. She’s already to cry….’

“Toughen up, there, Lib. Don’t embarrass your son now,” I said, trying to lighten up the mood a little.

“Hush now, you. Wait your turn,” she said, reminding me that my own son wasn’t that far away from legal service either.

“Point taken,” I said, as Karen wiped a tear from her own eye.

One hundred and six men and women, not all young, filed into the room, wearing ‘utilities’ not unlike workmen’s coveralls. I learned much later that a good third of them didn’t have clothing that the Army considered presentable for public ceremony, and as such rounded up these ill-fitting makeshift uniforms.  John was in mid-pack, being in alphabetical order, and easy to pick out given his height.

We’d said our private farewells, or perhaps more correctly, gave him advice that we thought might be most useful to him in the coming weeks and months, four days before. He’d been given two days to report for the batteries of tests, physicals and other sufferings one was put through prior to being allowed to take the oath.

From what I knew, precious few people were being exempted in any case, regardless of condition. I wondered to myself how many would make it through ‘basic’ if it were being held to the standards of a year before, or if the Marine’s ‘Crucible’ had similarly been toned down?

Major Cross, in full dress uniform, took the podium next to two other junior officers, and ordered the men and women to rise.

Spectators and inductees rose for the Pledge of Allegiance (unchanged), and remained standing as the men and women took their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Within a few more minutes, we were milling about as photographs were taken. John came over in his undersized coverall and shook hands with us, giving his younger sister a hug as well.

“Do you believe this thing?” John said of his attire.

“Yeah, you like a big green burrito,” I said, drawing a laugh. “I’m sure that the Army tailors will provide you much more suitable gear, any day now.”

“It’s one step above hospital clothes.”

“You’re being generous,” Karen said. “Especially nice with the tan boots.”

John moved closer and lowered his voice for privacy. “You should’ve seen some of the clothes these people were in! Dang near rags!  One guy had mismatched shoes!”

“Maybe they figure they’ll never wear them again anyway,” Ron said to his son.

“I don’t think so. One guy said this was the best outfit he’s had in three months.”

“Count yourself lucky then,” I said.  “What time you ship out?”

“Eleven-thirty,” he replied.

“They figure out where yet?” I asked, knowing that there was some question as to where ‘basic training’ was going to be completed.

“Sierra Army Depot. Somewhere in California.”

“Most of the others are too far east. Fort Leonard Wood’s behind the lines anyway.”

“Missouri?” Ron asked.

“Yeah. The others are all south east or too close to the lines for comfort.”

Libby was too quiet.  “Lib, you must be quite proud of your son,” I asked.

“I am,” she said in trooper form. “So is his fiancé.”

“Well! That’s news worth hearing about!”

“John, your story…” Libby said, now sporting a smile.

“I proposed the night after I got the letter. Dropped down on one knee and everything.”

“Good for you. She’s not here today though?” Karen said, looking around.

“No, she’s on rotation at Sacred Heart. Emergency room this week. Pretty much impossible to get out here for this.”

“Set a date?” I asked.

“Indeterminate,” he replied. It seemed like only a few months ago we visited Libby and Ron in the hospital with their new little boy. 

“That’s OK,” Ron said. Just leaves more time for your Mom and Sarah to plan something elaborate.”

“Good to know, since you’re the one on the hook to pay for it, since Sarah’s alone now.”

“I’m good with that. She’s worth it,” Ron said with a smile.

“John, I think they’re saying that she’s made improvements in you.”

“I know that’s what they’re saying,” he said as Major Cross made her way over to us.

“Private Martin,” Elaine said in ‘that’ tone. It was good to see John snap to attention. I honestly had no idea if that was expected at this point or not, but it seemed appropriate.


“At ease,” Elaine replied. “I believe that some photographs for your fiancé are in order.”

“You know?”

“My business. Sarah stitched up my elbow yesterday. Slipped on the ice and whacked my countertop. I prodded, she spilled. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Major,” he said, shaking hands.

“OK, Martin clan, let’s all get in the picture,” I said, turning on the old Sony digital camera.  “And let’s all try to look respectable.”

I took several pictures, including one with just John and Major Cross, and John and his folks.   All too soon, John and the others were ordered back into formation, as the assembled spectators lined both sides of the hallway. They marched out of the room to the south and were loaded up on buses. I knew that the bus ride would be short, only as far as the train depot at north edge of the Fort. From there, a couple days on the train.

As the spectators filtered back outside, Elaine and her assistant directed us back to Elaine’s office and the adjacent conference area, where we were provided hot cider or coffee.

“So Major, what’s on our agenda today?” I asked.  We’d had a few meetings over the past couple of weeks, usually routine business of scheduling the takeover of security patrols by civilians, as military units were called up and reassigned.

“I have a letter for you from Governor Hall,” she said, sliding the sealed letter, complete with printed logo and my typed name, across the desk.

Without opening it, I thought I knew what it might contain, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

“From the Governor? My, aren’t we traveling in rarified air!” Libby said, now recovered it seemed, and fully capable of firing appropriate barbs when needed.

I glanced over at Karen, seated in the other ‘guest’ chair in front of Elaine’s desk.

I leaned forward, sliding the letter toward me, and then opened it.  My eyes moved over the words, coming to rest on the phrase, ‘request that you accept this commission in service to the State.’ I noted Bob Anderson’s signature as well, next to his title, ‘Commanding Officer, Pacific Northwest Command.’

“Good grief,” I said.

“What is it?” Karen asked.

“I’ve been requested to accept a commission as a Colonel in the State Guard.”

“Congratulations, Rick,” Ron said.  “You’ve been drafted.”

“So it would seem,” I said, squeezing Karen’s hand. She looked like I felt.

“Major, this is for real?” I asked.

“Yes it is. The Governor isn’t singling you out, Mr. Drummond. More than two hundred commission requests like this have gone out in Washington alone,” Major Cross said.

“Elaine, you do realize that there is no possible way that I’d pass a military physical, let alone survive Basic,” I said with a chuckle, mulling around what this letter had in store for me. For us.

“I believe that the request stems from your leadership abilities, not your current physical condition.  Rick, you and Karen, and Ron and Libby of course, know the leadership vacuum we have right now. You’ve been tapped. The choice is yours of course,” Elaine said, in a tone that did not imply that there was a choice available.

“Let me sleep on it,” I said as I stood up.

“Don’t you want to know a little more about the job?” Elaine asked.

“The job, as you call it, involves turning our lives upside-down again, just when we’re really just getting back on our feet,” I said, knowing that we weren’t really getting back on our feet at all. We were as a city, almost getting by. Almost. I think what bothered me more than anything was that I was now ‘comfortable’ in our new personal and ‘business’ life.  “I learned a long time ago when I was in government employ, that job descriptions really don’t mean a damned thing.”

Major Cross had read my non-redacted file, one of perhaps a half dozen people who had.  I’d had a long talk with Karen, and later with Ron, Libby, Alan and Mary, filling them in on a less graphic version of my limited time and life-scarring experience as a fresh out-of-college, naïve employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

   Three members of our team of sixteen survived it, all those years ago. We’d been assigned a ‘cake walk’ mission: Provide water purification plant construction techniques to local villages in southern Sudan using mostly indigenous materials, as ‘part of a non-governmental organization.’ The real mission was to provide on-the-ground geological reporting on strategic mineral and oil reserves in the region, along with incidental reporting on other tactical and strategic observations. Three weeks in, it was apparent that suspected oil reserves were far in excess of previous estimates. This earned us kudos from the higher-ups.  To the much younger R. Drummond, that was a great accomplishment.

It blew up in our face on our thirty-sixth day in country, through no fault of our own we believed at the time. The president of the country imposed Shari’a law, and the firestorm of murder began their civil war. As the factions solidified, we found ourselves in the geographic middle. Soon enough we were hunted—we were different. By the time we were ‘recovered’, there were four of us left. I was the youngest. The senior surviving member of our team was nine months older. I remembered my friend, ‘Mac’, he was a good guy, always smiling, friendly with the village kids, respectful of the elders and all of the cultural customs. He’d graduated from the Colorado School of Mines, and was our geotech expert, as well as an expert in knife-fighting. He’d been wounded during the first attack, a bad shoulder wound.  For eight days, we’d evaded as best we could, losing team members all along the way despite our non-sanctioned, non-US manufactured weapons—NGO’s weren’t allowed to have arms.  ‘Mac’ had almost made it out—he died on the floor of a shot-up Russian-made helicopter just as we crossed over into the Congo.  Mary Elizabeth Wilson held his left hand. I held his right. Sometimes, I believe I still can hear her Carolina voice, with words that I cannot forget.

It was a few hours later that we learned that we’d really been hunted from the get-go because our cover had been blown somewhere from the inside.   We had also been blamed for a series of massacres that oddly enough followed our evac route. The faction pursuing us simply killed everyone they met, and blamed it on us.  Those that we did kill were incidental by the numbers.  That night we were on a C-141 back to Virginia.  Six days in the infirmary and pounded by constant debriefs, and on day seven, I resigned.  Twenty years it had been since I’d last hoped that the rat bastard who’d rolled over burned in Hell for all eternity, and one whole year passed a few years back, when I realized I’d gone a year without The Nightmare.

I’d never really gone through what might pass for Basic Training in anybody’s idea of military service, although we certainly had our share of verbal abuse, during what was called a ‘perverted version of Army basic,’ with forty-eight hours of the Marine Crucible thrown in for the sadistic enjoyment of our Training Officer. Since those days, I had studiously avoided anything remotely like formal physical training, maybe more as a means of trying to forget, which was in retrospect about the worst thing that I could have done to remain in better health over time. Before the Domino, I was thirty-five pounds over my once-upon-a-time field-grade weight. Now, not a year later, I was only five pounds over the target weight of old, and that weight loss was not due to training.

Although I could still hit the target, my eyesight had declined over the years and I was now finding myself starting to play the trombone with the fine print.  My two pairs of regular glasses sufficed for distance and were ‘progressives’ for reading, as both my ophthalmologist and optometrist had warned me at my yearly checkup, now eleven months ago, that this was coming. Back then I hardly wore glasses, just contacts. Now, contact lenses worked for distance, but no longer for reading. Libby provided me four pairs of reading glasses that she’d collected during salvage.  They were a bother.

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