Sunday, January 24, 2010
I had up to two weeks until I was to report to Fort Overbeck for my own induction. I appreciated that I’d get to spend Thanksgiving at home. I hoped it wasn’t my last one.
Today would be ‘another day at the office.’ My first task would be to find my replacement and get them trained up. Somebody would be getting an awful shock today…I had a short list in my head of likely victims, er, candidates.
Ron and Alan had their hands full trying to round up special orders for Thanksgiving, now less than a week away. The easiest thing to come by: Green beans and dried onions. The most difficult (impossible) thing to come by: Marshmallows for the topping of sweet potatoes and yams. The stores in the ‘more affluent’ areas had heard of some extremely high offers…no one could furnish the goods though. It also appeared that farm turkeys (scarce in pre-Domino times in the region) would be supplemented by wild turkeys (scarce now due to over hunting) and geese. Our turkeys were being raised out at Don Pauliano’s, with ample assistance from Joe.
Don and Lorene’s farm was a profitable venture, and Don had hired two local kids, both orphaned, as hands for the place. They were quickly pretty much adopted as their own, with Joe and Joan serving as grandparents.
With the needed help out at the farm, the Pauliano’s had decided to close up the city house two weeks before, moving the balance of the livestock out there as well. I’d located a semi trailer for moving the stock, bought it and it’s tractor on the spot, and then after Don and Joe were done with it, put it out for rent to anyone who needed to ‘double-up’ their stock with anyone else’s. It hadn’t paid for itself yet, but it was pretty close. A few more runs in the spring, and we’d have our money out of it. Since the ‘mission’ of the tractor-trailer was related to farm production, we got fuel priority. If not for that, we’d have been better off renting the thing for far more than a one-time rental shot should cost. The former owner was more than willing to negotiate. I didn’t press too hard, and I was able to hook him up with a job in the Metro motor pool. He turned out to be a pretty good wrench, the supervisor told me.
As soon as the alarm clock went off, Karen was up and going, giving me a quick kiss before she rolled out of bed to build me breakfast and lunch. I was getting an early start today, with the goal of trying to get a whole lot more work done.
I showered and shaved, enjoying for a little too long the hot water. It was a luxury that was sometimes a little too hard to resist. Dressing today in longjohns and Dockers, I also decided to wear a dress-shirt and tie. I could not remember when the last time I wore a tie. A while ago for sure. I picked a Black Watch plaid. By the time I was ready to find my boots, Buck had decided to play, and had taken the right one with him. I found him in the living room, boot in mouth, hindquarters raised, forelegs stretched out in front of him, his playful growl going full volume. Once I found ‘the spot’ on his right side, I managed to scratch him enough to get his hind leg going as he rolled over. The boot again was mine.
In the kitchen, Karen was stirring in some sun-dried tomatoes and onions into my eggs and hash browns.
“Mmm,” I said as I snuck up behind Karen and hugged her from the back. “Smells great.”
“So do you. You used my soap again, didn’t you?”
“Coconut. Reminded me of Maui.”
“You’ll need that reminder. It’s eleven degrees outside.”
“What’s the weather doing?”
“Fresh snow. Couple inches. Nothing on the radio though.”
“Nothing-nothing? Or nothing worth listening to?”
“The former, sort of. Just a tone, then it repeats, KDA Spokane, fifteen-ten. What do you think that means?”
“Generally, nothing good. Anything on the County frequency?”
“Normal traffic. Shift change stuff by the sounds of it.”
“Military?” I asked, referring to our newly installed mil-spec radio.
“OK. I’ll zap downtown and see what’s up.”
“Toast’ll be ready in a minute.”
“K. Thanks,” I said, as I got ready to call in. “One eleven to Spokane.”
“One eleven,” came Arlene Lomax’s reply.
“Advise status on civilian radio station KDA?”
“KDA is down due to equipment failure.”
“Also down at this time.” That meant radio and television.
“Understood. One eleven out.”
“One eleven,” Arlene replied in her cool, clinical voice.
“What’s up?” Karen asked as she brought me my steaming plate, toast, and grape jam.
“All civilian radio is down. And TV.”
“Somebody take them out?”
“I’m betting yes.”
“Didn’t ask. I’m assuming that’s still up.”
“Maybe give Aaron a call.”
“You, my love, are brilliant,” I said around a mouthful of eggs and potatoes.
“Yes, I have my moments,” she said as she kissed my forehead, and then the scar on the side of my head.
Pre-Domino, to legally broadcast on ham frequencies, you needed a license. These days, you needed a radio, power, and somebody that recognized your ‘handle.’
“Whisky-poppa four, this is Tango two-one,” I said after warming up the Collins. I repeated my call.
“Whisky-poppa,” came the reply.
“Good morning, WP. Hear anything unusual of late?”
“Plenty. Not the time or the place though,” Aaron replied.
“Understood. Say fifteen?”
“Affirmative. Whisky-poppa out.”
“Two-one out,” I said, and then shut down the power to the KWM.
“Well,” Karen said, “That was certainly cryptic.”
“It was at that. I wonder what he’s heard?”
“Sounds like you’ll find out soon enough,” Karen said, refilling my tea.
I sat there in the chair, staring at the radio for a few moments too long.
“Yeah. I better get moving.”
“Brush teeth. You’re worse than the kids.”
“Hazard of preoccupation.”
“Don’t make a habit out of it,” she said as she found my one ticklish spot, just under the right side of my ribcage.
“Hey, now, play fair,” I said.
“Better move it, Colonel, or I’ll take you back to bed.”
“There’s an offer I could take you up on.”
“If only,” she said as she wiggled a little more than necessary on the way back into the kitchen.
Ten minutes later, I was out the door as my ‘personal security detail’ arrived to pick me up for the trip into town. I found that my .45 holster just didn’t quite feel right with dress pants.
“Mike, good morning,” I said as I climbed into the front seat.
“Little detour today. Got a quick stop to make on the way in. Call it intel gathering.” I gave him the directions to Aaron and Ellen Watters’ home.
“Yes, sir,” Lieutenant West replied. I’d gotten to know the young lieutenant a little on our occasional drives into town, along with two corporals and a sergeant who must’ve drawn the short straw with Major Cross. “Something special going on?”
“Maybe. Friend of mine is a ham radio geek. Wanted to talk face to face.”
“Busy night last night for the comms guys we heard. Took out a couple of the civvies transmitters.”
“I’m sure that’s at least part of it,” I said as we neared Aaron’s place. “There on the right.”
“Hard to miss with that mast.”
“True. Sorry,” I said as he pulled the Humvee pickup into the driveway.
“No problem. I’m pretty good at picking out the obvious.”
“Right. Officer material,” I said with a grin.
“Which, I understand, you will be soon.”
“Right, so remember to respect your potential superior officer.”
“All in good fun, sir.”
“Be right back.”
I had almost made it to the top step of the porch when Ellen Watters opened the door.
“Morning, Rick. How are you today?”
“Good, Ellen. How’s that troublemaker husband of yours?”
“Boy, you’ve got him dialed. Come on in. He’s in the radio shack. I’m heading out back to check the goats. I’ll be right back.”
“Thanks,” I said as I made my way to the former bedroom in the back of Aaron’s house. I found him with his headphones on, sitting before a most impressive bank of radio gear.
“Hey there, Whisky,” I said to get his attention. He held up one hand to quiet me, as he took notes on the broadcast he was listening to. Two more minutes passed, and apparently the broadcast ended.
“Have a seat, Rick.”
“Well, you already know that local radio and TV are out.”
“I do, just from turning it on.”
“Sheriff comms are on emergency backup, and your Metro frequencies are probably on backup, too. Railroad transmitters were hit last night, er, this morning. Sounded like rifle fire from what one of the tech’s said.”
“Hear any military communications?”
“Plenty, all scrambled. With that handy little unit you requisitioned though, here’s the transcript.”
Aaron was referring to an off-the-books transaction where I arranged to have a military receiver, capable of decoding encrypted transmissions, provided to Aaron ‘for backup purposes.’ As far as the Army knew, it just went missing. Without the encryption keys (provided), it was a boat anchor. With the keys, it gave us another window out of the box.
“Red team is playing by the book. Blue team isn’t.”
Red Team was us, the United States. Blue Team was ‘them,’ the S.A.
“From what I’m picking up, and that’s well beyond the local area, S.A. forces are in a coordinated effort to disrupt transportation communications and civilian communications channels in all USA controlled states and territories. It’s been marginally successful, apparently.”
“A bright guy once said without communications, you haven’t got squat.”
“We haven’t had much in the way of comms for eleven months.”
“Making what you have left, all the more valuable. And vulnerable. Other parts, Hell, most of the country has restored telephone service, or did until today.”
“Ours isn’t far away from working again.”
“Don’t advertise that too much. Rick, I think they’re planning on some sort of offensive. I’m not sure with what, or when, but generally this type of action would precede some major action.”
“Yeah. By a matter of minutes or hours.”
“Certainly. And you haven’t had a briefing from your Army comms contact today, and you might not.”
“Charlie patrol is two hours overdue. SAR units are looking for them now.”
“Any idea where?”
“Browne Mountain. They were setting up a redundant transmitter up by the KDA site.”
“OK. Anything else?”
“It’s in the transcript. The SA’s putting up a helluva fight here and there. Shadowy. Sneaky. Dishonorable. You won’t like what you read.”
“I’m sure I won’t. Your reception frequencies listed on here?”
“Yep. Feel free to share.”
“I will. Once I find somebody to share with.”
“Watch your ass, soldier. Somebody’s likely to shoot it off.”
“Thanks, Aaron, I will do my best. Joe get you that goose you wanted for Thanksgiving?”
“So he says. Good egg, that one.”
“He is at that. I better run. Let Alan know if you need anything for the big day.”
“We’re fine. Ellen’s a pretty fair quartermaster.”
“I’m sure!” I said as Aaron rose and we shook hands. “Thanks for everything.”
“Glad to do it. Remember what I said, Rick. You will not like what’s in that report.”
We were five miles closer to town, and five pages into the stack of paper, when I asked the Lieutenant to contact the PACNW liaison officer. He radioed to his command station, eventually tracking down Kurt George, Elaine Cross’s counterpart. They’d switched shifts a while back, he normally handled the twelve-hour ‘night’ shift. I wasn’t sure why he’d still be on duty.
After a few minutes of negotiating, we settled on a meeting at eight o’clock.
Aaron was right. I didn’t like what I was reading.
By seven thirty-five, I’d settled into the office, cleared of the fair-sized pile of ‘urgent’ requests, and poured a cup of really bad coffee. The entire staff was on edge—everyone knew something was up.
Mike Amberson arrived just as I was punching up his extension.
“Sheriff. I see we’re having another rough day.”
“Ain’t just us,” He said. “You got the lousy coffee, too I see,” he said as he looked at my chipped mug.
“Yeah. Who else? I got a report here from Aaron Watters that tells me all kinds of ugly from all over the country.”
“Kootenai County’s comms are completely down. And their power grid. Stevens, Pend Orielle, Lincoln, and Adams County got hit on their grids and on their domestic water pumping stations. Eight lines from Grand Coulee were dynamited as well,” Mike said.
“This is happening all over the West, Mike. There must be hundreds of teams doing this, and they’re right in our midst.”
“Some missing persons reports just coming in. Most of this didn’t start getting noticed until an hour or two ago. Most people around there are used to outages. When the field crews went to track down the problems, they found way more than they bargained for.”
“We’re used to it. California, Nevada….Hell, most of the remaining states, they’re not. We’re barreling toward a bitterly cold winter and the S.A. just unplugged the grid. I’m betting the Army was caught completely by surprise by this.”
“No one could have expected this.”
“Sure we could have. We’re still thinking conventionally,” I said as Major George knocked on the doorframe.
“Major. I see we have a situation on our hands. Again.” I said as I pointed to Aaron’s notes.
“No offense, Rick, but that may be the understatement of the day.”
“Have a seat. Avoid the coffee. Brenda?” I asked one of the office administrators, “Could you make us some tea?”
“Well, I could if we had some,” she replied. Brenda held a Ph. D. in fashion and textiles. When there was a University of Washington, she was an associate professor. She’d found out quite quickly, when she was stranded in Spokane when Rainier went off, that an advanced degree in fashion was literally useless. She’d had to learn on the job, working her way up the ladder.
I reached into my desk and fished out a box of Darjeeling. “Here. Make plenty.”
“Will do!” she said as she spun on her heel and headed to the lunchroom.
“OK, Kurt. I’m hearing from Mike we have big bad ugly all around us.”
“Oh, here too, probably not quite as brutal as in other parts of the country.”
“I’m assuming this was a surprise,” I asked.
“We had no idea that something this widespread was coming.”
“Not a complete surprise then,” Mike asked.
“Not entirely, we’d heard some scuttlebutt but very little hard intel. Certainly no idea the S.A. had this capability,” Kurt replied, leaning forward in his chair.
“I asked Mike this earlier. Casualties?”
“There are enemy dead. Locally, regionally and nationally. Most I’m hearing were taken out by civilian forces, not military,” Major George responded.
“Different rules of engagement. You pull the plug on somebody’s power in eastern Montana in the winter, and sure as Hell you’re gonna be a hundred and sixty-eight grains heavier,” Mike said matter-of-factly, referring to the weight of a rifle round.
“Kurt, I want you to read this through and tell me if this is accurate,” I said, handing him the stack of paper than Aaron had provided. “What I just read on my way in tells me that there are more than a thousand dead. A thousand dead civilians. Maybe a third of them executed. A fair amount of that percentage were children.”
“I can’t say that’s inaccurate based on what I’ve heard. I’m assuming this is from civilian radio traffic.”
“Multiple bands. Not all civilian.”
That sentence drew a raised eyebrow, but no further inquiry. We gave Major George a few minutes to read Aaron’s notes. Brenda returned with a pot of tea, poured us all cups, and left us a small container of honey. I indulged, and added some to Kurt’s cup as well as he nodded approval.
“Gentlemen, I can’t dispute anything in that report. Since the S.A. moved their capitol from Denver to Chicago, they’ve consolidated regular military units to strategic locations well within what we’d regard as their frontier, with the exception of them bisecting U.S. territory along the Mississippi to the Gulf, and that’s a narrow strip that’s in constant flux. In the ‘no man’s land’ between U.S. lines and their hard lines, they’ve got irregulars. Maybe military in civilian dress, a fair percentage of them ex-cons, and a fair percentage of that group downright violent. What we’ve seen in the past few hours is a taste of that. For sure, some of these have extensive tactical training, probably their team leaders, who may or may not be in the field.”
“What’s Austin doing about this?” I asked. Austin was now the provisional Capitol of the United States of America. Someday, we hoped we’d have D.C. back. Perhaps by then the radioactivity would be manageable.
“There will be serious reaction, I’m certain. One issue to consider here is the dispersed nature of the field targets. Many of the actions appear to be the result of very small teams, infiltrating deep into our territory,” the Major replied.
“So hit some infrastructure!” I said in a mad-as-Hell tone.
“I’m sure that option is on the table.”
“All right, Kurt. What’s the plan for the day?” trying to calm my anger down. “I’m assuming our military forces are hunting bear.”
“Affirmative. Don’t expect to see any idle uniforms anytime soon. We have a battalion in the field today in six counties around Spokane. By noon, we’ll have a brigade.”
“Five thousand men hunting how many?”
“Figure a couple hundred, max. We’ll get many of that number.”
“What’s this do to us in the metro area?”
“Figure that you’ll have minimal coverage and backup from the military until this is handled.”
“OK, figured that. How am I supposed to, sorry, how are we supposed to get the word out to our population that they need to watch out for themselves and keep out of trouble, because most of the police and military are otherwise engaged?”
“Are you supposed to?” Major George asked. “Maybe you don’t.”
“All right, I see your point here. Weather’s cold, more snow coming, most commerce is running pretty slowly. You’re saying let things self-police.”
“By and large, yes. You still have about thirty-percent of the full complement of law enforcement personnel as residents in the various precincts, you have a largely armed population, and for the past two weeks crime has been pretty low.”
“Mike, your thoughts?”
“We effectively have no way to really get the word out until civilian communications are repaired.”
“And don’t bet on that happening right away,” Kurt George said. “Initial reports on damage to your TV transmitters look pretty bad.”
“Mike, have you already increased security on our own power stations?”
“No, the power operators did that ahead of us. Private contractors, more than happy to be on sentry for three hots and a cot and a guarantee of work in the spring.”
“Any other vulnerabilities?” I asked, knowing there were probably too many to count.
“Sure. Ones we can do anything about? Not many at this point. All we can do is get the word out to the neighborhoods, and let them handle it,” Mike said.
“Dammit all to Hell,” I said as I leaned back in my chair. “Major, anything else?”
“Not at this time, but we’ll be in touch.”
“I expected to see Elaine today. Did you two switch shifts?”
“She’s at home today. Kids are under the weather, so I pulled a double.”
“Anything serious?” I asked.
“Not sure. I got the word from one of my LT’s.”
“Maybe I’ll have my wife check in with her.”
“You’re one of the few people in the County equipped to have that kind of communication, I guess,” the Major said as he stood up. “Mr. Drummond, Sheriff, we’ll be in touch later today.”
“Thanks, Kurt,” I said as I shook his hand.
I poured myself another cup of tea, now cooling to the room temperature of sixty degrees, and filled Mike’s cup as well. Outside, the snow was coming down again, and the wind was coming up. “You ready for this?” I asked Mike as I watched the snow.
“No, but that’s never stopped me before. It’s here, and we’re gonna get it, or it’s gonna get us.”