Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 20


Friday morning,
November Seventeenth
11:15 a.m.

Mike and I had a morning interrupted by reports from his deputies county wide, who were barely able to communicate on their alternate radios—citizens band. We also put a rough draft of a press release for Mike’s information officer to polish up and get out on the radio as soon as communications were restored, which happened around eleven. The announcement was pretty grave in its tone. Contrary to our earlier thoughts with Major George, we decided to spill it all. I wasn’t one for concealing the gravity of things when lives were in the balance.  Maybe some alert resident would come forth and rat out their ‘neighbor’ who liked to hunt police officers, radio transmitters, and electrical transformers.

“You think we’re going to win this, Mike?” I asked as I stood at the window, looking out over the parking lot and its guard shack, snow now drifting against the building.  “The war, I mean,” realizing that my question might have been in reference to the current battle.

He paused before he answered. “I don’t know. If we have to sink to their level to do it, I wonder myself how much of ourselves we lose in order to ‘win.’”

“Yeah.  You heard anything new on the lines?” I asked, referring to states or parts of states held by the S.A.

“Not much.  I was hoping to hear something from our military friends on that. God knows that those who pass for journalists these days don’t open their mouths on the subject.”

“Why should they?” I asked. “You saw what happened to that reporter in Denver when he questioned Lambert about an executive order to reinstate the Bill of Rights.”  Lambert was a former Senator, appointed President, who then decided to create his own version of American fascism.  The first lessons they taught the nation was that it was ‘their’ way. Period.  The second lesson was that only the first lesson mattered.

“Yeah. I heard it. His family, his friends. All of them.”  Fairly widespread coverage on Radio Free America had addressed the demise of William McDowell in some detail. His remains were found along with his extended family in a warehouse in East St. Louis, bound, gagged, and shot in the back of their heads. A few days later, additional discoveries were made, of his closer friends, co-workers, cameraman, and producer.

“Yeah. Not a real good incentive to poke your nose out.”

“No, it’s not. And that gal that worked for ABC in Los Angeles. She asked the wrong questions too. And they got her as well, way behind the lines,” Mike said.

I was quiet for a few moments. “So how do we win this?” I asked, looking at an old sepia-toned map of the United States, one that had belonged to Walt Ackerman before me. “They’ve got the entire Northeast down to Virginia. Part of Virginia and West Virginia. Part of Kentucky. Part of Tennessee and that strip steak of Mississippi and Louisiana to Memphis and the wiggly line east of Little Rock. Almost all of Kansas. Half of Colorado. Big chunk of Nebraska, Iowa and that diagonal up to the Twin Cities. All of the Rust Belt.”

“But not the Southeast. Not three-quarters of Canada. Not sixty percent of Mexico. Not the Navy, which I understand means the entire Pacific and most of the Atlantic. Not most of the Air Force. And of course, not the West.”

“We’re the Balkans,” I said, knowing that wasn’t quite right.

“No, we’re the United States. We have a cancer though, that can kill us if we don’t kill it.”

“We have battle lines that are what, three thousand miles long?” I asked.

“Probably longer.”

“So how do you manage a three-thousand mile front? How do you re-supply if you’re inside that box?” I asked, knowing Mike probably wouldn’t have the answers either. “C’mon. You’re an ex-Ranger.”

“Smart ex-Ranger. We left stuff like that up to the higher pay grades. We were more about where the metal meets the meat.”

“Right. Now you’re the youngest Sheriff in County history, with a pretty wife, cute twins, a new-to-you house, and a few dozen deputies to manage. And let’s not forget our tens of thousands of neighbors. The war’s only four states away, or next door, depending on what day it is.”

Mike laughed a little bit at that. “We’re fighting on a different front.”

“So far, maybe.”

“OK. If I were running the S.A. train, I’d consolidate my gains. Preserve the eastern seaboard for shipping. Hang on to the Mississippi. Create an air-cover umbrella over my territory.  Problem for them is they seem to have no meaningful air force and we do. They appear to have no meaningful naval forces and we’re probably blockading them. And yet they continue to posture that they are the stronger ‘nation.’ They basically have coal, and no oil. They have no way to import it without going through our lines. Terrorist tactics taken deep into the territory that they wish to win over by honey.”

“Summary?” I asked.

“It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. They’re doing everything wrong, they do not appear to have adequate military forces to mount a meaningful offensive. They appear to have no means of sustaining themselves….”

“And yet, here we are, with men in the field, hunting ghosts.”

“It seems to me that they cannot last.”

“That’s logical enough,” I said.

“But you’re thinking something else,” Mike said, looking at me and not the map.

“I am. I think they’ve got an outside sponsor, they’re planning something bigger and much more widespread, and are planning to BE the stronger nation as a result,” I said, looking at the map, still not really understanding it.

“Gut feel,” Mike said.

“Yeah. Nothing more. It’s just that when nothing else makes sense, that one thought does.”

We looked at the map again, as we heard the Emergency Broadcast System tone come up on the radio. We heard a more polished version of our words come out of the speaker. 

“Let’s get out of here for awhile,” I said. “My brain needs a break.”

“Old age, huh?” Mike said as we headed down to the cafeteria.

“Don’t look now, but I’m not too many years older than you are, and when I was your age, my kids were already in school. You’ll be, let’s see, fifty-seven when they graduate from high school. Let’s talk then about age, hmmm?”

“We should be so lucky,” he said.


In the cafeteria, Mike and I found a table off in the corner, away from most of the other employees taking lunch. Today, we had what appeared to be a locally-made pasta, with some kind of meat—I didn’t bother to read the menu, as it only had one choice—and corn in a casserole type dish. Beverages included water, or…water.

“So how’s the new house?” I asked.

“Smaller than we’re used to, which is just fine. Easier to heat.”

“You got the old place secured?”

“After a fashion.  We took everything we needed, or might need. Boarded up the windows, sealed everything else up as best we could.”

“Well, it was smart to move. There wasn’t any way those roads would let you guys stay out there, utilities or not.”

“I know. Still, it was a shame leaving it. Ash must’ve had a hundred hours stenciling up the nursery for the twins.” Ashley was Mike’s wife, who was adjusting to life as a twenty-four-seven mom.

“You’ve got more land now, a barn, and a good house going forward.”

“And I have your brother-in-law to thank for that.”

“Seemed like a good fit.”  Alan had been out at the Greenacres barter store in late September, trying to talk one of our ‘regular’ suppliers into staying. Brad and Jennie Rivers had a nice home and property, but had decided that it was better for their future to pack up and head south before the winter really hit.  Through Alan’s contacts, he’d managed to arrange travel for Brad and his family to Salt Lake, where they had extensive family. When asked about the house, and knowing there really wasn’t any way to sell it, Brad told Alan to find somebody who could really use the place the way it was intended. Maybe someday, they could come back up to Spokane. Either way, Brian and Jennie didn’t figure to get the house back.

“You’ll have to give us some schooling on the garden thing.  We just got a taste of it this year.”

“We’d be happy to. I hear that most of your basement was set up for a pantry?”

“And a canning kitchen, which I was completely unfamiliar with pre-Domino.”
“It’d be good to have a place designed on purpose,” I said almost to myself. “Karen and I were married all of six months when we found our place. Moved in and filled it up with stuff. It’s taken years to de-junk now, and only the quake made us serious about it.”

“We’re filling it up quickly enough.”

“Cloth diapers and buckets of laundry slime don’t count,” I said. Laundry-slime was a concoction made from bar soap, washing soda, and Borax. The recipe for it was discovered in my stash of knowledge collected off of the Internet. At the Drummond house, we were stretching out our pre-Domino detergents, and using ‘slime’ to make up the difference.

“It’s not all full of that, but you might think it. Lots of dehydrated stuff.  Some home-canned stuff, lots of bulk food in the bins that the Rivers had built.”

“While I don’t agree with their religious beliefs, I cannot fault them one iota for food preparation philosophy.”

“I’m not sure Ashley’s going to be ready for all the work needed to keep that kind of system going.”

“No one is,” I said.   “You remember that report put together by the Army—the Redstone Arsenal report?”

“Yeah. Some reason for optimism there, once we hit bottom.”

“You think so? Are you forgetting the statements about ‘fortified locations’ for stuff? Industries, technology, medical….”

“I remember, didn’t really make an impression, maybe because it just made sense. Why do you ask?” Mike asked.

“I’m just not sure that the bottom they’ve predicted, and the recovery timeline can be possible with a civil war raging.”

“It can’t. There’s no way. Too much reallocation of resources and depletion of existing materiel to do both.  Even so, it may be a delay, not a game-stopper.”

I sat there for a few moments, thinking. What would our part be in the recovery? In the War?

“Spill it, Rick.”

“We have a strategic industry here that’s been idle since January fourteenth, and haven’t done a thing about it.”

“That would be…”

“The old Kaiser mill,” I said. The Trentwood Plant had been shut down due to both the depressed aluminum prices and a plant refit when the Domino hit. I remembered the damage reports after the quake weren’t catastrophic, and that mill employees had creatively secured the plant—windows were all barred anyway, and aluminum plate was welded over every single door. Since then, we’d just had bigger things to think about, no, more immediate things to think about, and this one got away from us.   

“If vandals and thieves haven’t gotten to it. No one’s been guarding the place,” Mike said.

“Let me get a crew on it. I’m wondering if we still have any plant engineers around.”

“Bound to be a few. And speaking of replacements….”

“I know. Who’s the lucky candidate for my job?”

“Yeah. You got a short list?”

“One Tonya Lincoln.”  Tonya had served with me on the old Recovery Board, and was now head of our Commerce department.  ‘Sharp’ didn’t begin to describe her.

“Good choice. Ask her yet?”

“Nope, got a meeting scheduled with her at two.” 

“Think she’ll say no?”

“Doubtful. Bigger problem will be her replacement. I’ll let her figure that one out,” I said as I noticed an Army corporal enter the room, spot Mike and I, and make a bee line for us.

“Excuse me, Colonel Drummond?”

“Not commissioned yet, Corporal. At the moment I believe I’m still a civilian,” I said as I stood.  “What’s up?”

“Report from Major George, sir.  He asked that you review this immediately.”

“My office, upstairs. Let’s go,” I said. “Mike, care to join us?”

“Sure. As long as I’m not getting drafted.”

“I’ll see to it that within my extremely limited powers, that you will remain a civvie.”

That’ll make me sleep better,” Mike said with a laugh as we hit the stairs.

On my desk, another notice that I had ‘urgent’ emails to review. Nothing new there.  “Have a seat, Corporal,” I said. “Where’d we lose the Sheriff?” I asked, just as Mike came in holding a sheaf of papers of his own.  “Get sidetracked?”

“Report from West Plains. Seems our Airway Heights precinct got a few of the bad guys sniping at the flight line at Fairchild.”

“KIA?” I asked.

“Four. Two wounded. Air Force security police and our guys are interrogating them.”

“Losses on our side?”


“Good,” I said, opening up the sealed envelope from Kurt George.

I scanned the requisition, then read it in depth, and summarized it for Mike and the corporal.

“Effective eighteen November, oh-nine-hundred, ninety percent of Spokane County’s railroad stock is being requisitioned by the United States government for the war effort.” I paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Corporal, is there some sort of acknowledgement that I’m to make here?”

“Yes, sir, second page. Your signature is required.”

“Just for spits and giggles, what happens if I don’t sign?” That obviously made the young corporal uncomfortable.

“Sir, I….”

“Corporal, the rail system is one of the keys to our recovery. Yanking that out puts us, to be kind, in a Helluva spot.  There’s nothing here that says anything about continuing to supply Pacific Northwest Command and the civilian population through means of rail. Road traffic ain’t an option.  Get it?”

“Yes sir, but I…”

“I know. You’re following orders to see that I receive these. I’ve received them. I will speak with Major George and the rest of Command regarding this. You’re dismissed.”

“Sir, I was ordered to bring back those orders, signed.”

“Understood, corporal. I’m under a moral obligation to try keep Spokane County and most of the inland northwest alive.  That means trade beyond our state for food we can’t grow. Fruit that’s out of season. Nuts. Stuff like toothbrushes and soap and paper goods hopefully someday. Supplying California wheat, peas, lentils, timber, maybe one of these days aluminum. Can’t really do that without rail cars and locomotives.”

“Understood, sir,” he said, with resignation.

“I will speak to your superiors as soon as possible, Corporal. That might be a little while though. Feel free to make yourself comfortable in the cafeteria or the employee lounge. I’ll track you down as soon as possible,” I said, all but telling him that it was no longer appropriate for him to be sitting in my office. He took the hint, and stood to go.

“Sir,” he said at attention, spun smartly on a heel and headed for the hallway. I waited until he was out of earshot until I talked with Mike about it.

“Damn it,” I said to the paper on my desk.

“You know, that request was a courtesy,” Mike said with barely concealed humor. “They’re going to take them regardless.”

“Understood. I still want somebody to acknowledge that we’re on the radar screen.  We were all but ignored after the Domino. The Federal response was almost nil.  I just don’t want to be forgotten.”

“Well damned sure you’re going to get somebody’s attention,” he said. “Can you get by with ten percent of your rolling stock?”

“No idea. Not as well as we might have, but nothing works out the way you plan anyway,” I said. “What’s in your stack of happy news?”

“Nothing all that happy.  Line crews getting sniped at while making repairs. Aiming to wound, not kill, and of course to take out the new transformers as soon as they’re installed, wasting more time and resources. Got a report out of Whitman County that communications teams are being killed as well. Worse than that further out. Kidnappings of families of key people.”

“To what end?” I asked, guessing the answer.


“Of course….”

“I better get moving. Spent enough time indoors today,” Mike said as he stood.

“Watch yourself. You could get used to it.”

“Nope, too much time in the field. Not comfortable behind a desk.”

“Remember, dinner tonight at our place.”

“Six o’clock?”

“Earlier if you like—if I’m not there I’m sure Karen would love to spend time with the twins and catching up with Ashley.”

“See you then,” I said shaking his hand and looking at the time. I had less than hour until meeting with Tonya.

Time to rattle a cage.

I headed upstairs to the old Commissioners’ office suite, which for logical reasons was now the home to our communications office. It was also the home to a half-dozen secure-frequency military radios that allowed us to easily communicate with our friends in green.

“Rayanne, can you see if you can get hold of General Anderson?”

“Yes, sir,” the duty communications tech replied, nervous eyes downcast.  I could imagine what she was thinking.

I was in luck. Bob Anderson was ‘in.’

“Mr. Drummond, I bet I know why you’re calling me.”

“Bob, I’m sure you do.”

“You understand the need we have.”

“I have a pretty good idea, yeah. I want to know what assurance we have that we’re going to continue to have commercial rail service to keep us supplied and keep trade active.”

“You have as much assurance as I can give you, which frankly isn’t much.”

“Does anyone in Austin have the faintest idea of what it’s really like up here? What it’s been like since January?”

“Only as much as your senators and representatives can shout I suppose.  Rick, we need those cars and locomotives. You know why.”

“Sure I do. I also know that we’ve got substantial trade obligations with Oregon, California and the rest of the southwest that we need to fulfill. That might be dicey without dependable rail schedules.”

“We’ll do what we can, but I cannot make any promises.”

“This will end up on my successors’ desk. But let me tell you, Tonya doesn’t take any guff from anybody. She needs something she will find a way to get it. She’ll make noise. She’ll make you uncomfortable.”

“Sounds like my in-laws.”

“Family comparisons aside, General, if we don’t have reasonably reliable rail service, then we fail badly. I’ve done the numbers. People up here will die.”

“Understood. Can’t discuss this further right now. You have anything else we need to go over, Rick?”

“Not at this time, General.”

“We’ll talk next week. Good luck.”

“Thanks. Talk to you then,” I said as the line went dead.

Tonya was gonna love this, I thought.  

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