Tuesday, February 16, 2010
It is, and should be, something that will forever alter your view of humanity, seeing lifeless bodies in the street, either in person or through television or still photographs. On this night, with intermittent power and television signals, we were watching commercial television news of the attacks on American citizens, caused by American citizens. I think the Drummond family was more in shock and sadness, that this could happen, that this should be, ‘on purpose.’
The Los Angeles attacks might have been the worst, or most graphic, I could not decide which. The commentators, constantly warning that the images should not be seen by younger viewers or that they were particularly shocking, eventually ran out of adjectives as the hand-held, and helicopter mounted cameras showed block after block of dead in the streets, most wearing the customary California casual wear. Three major theme parks were hit, just two weeks after reopening for limited runs. Four other major outdoor shopping areas, and one shopping mall, were hit, nearly simultaneously. It appeared to me within a few minutes that there had to be multiple delivery methods to deliver whatever agent was used, with the common factor that it was an airborne agent, or perhaps several agents.
Many of the bodies had burns and blisters of some kind while in other locations the bodies were relatively unmarked.
In L.A. alone, there appeared to be thousands dead. Little television footage was shown of the attacks in Dallas, again at an outdoor market; no visuals from Phoenix or the attacks in Florida. I suspected they were at least as effective as what we had seen in California. Very little was said of the attack in Colorado. I assumed that this was due to censorship, rather than for lack of available information.
I got up from my spot on the couch, sandwiched between Karen and Kelly, and cleared the dinner dishes from the coffee table. Carl shut off the television. I think we’d all had enough.
Before I reached the kitchen with my armload of soup bowls and mugs, Buck and Ada were up and moving toward the door, just as I heard the front gate rattle.
“Easy, you two. Carl, see who might be on the way in, please,” I said.
“Got it,” he said as he reached for the twelve-gauge with his left hand, holding back the window blinds with his right. “Army…It’s Major Cross.”
That got Karen up and moving. She’d been staring a little too long at the blank television screen after it was shut off. I’m sure she was thinking the same kinds of things that I was.
“Carl, Kelly, you two take care of the dishes. And there’s laundry to fold downstairs,” Karen said as she opened the front door for Elaine. Both dogs then lowered their guard and went into attention-getting mode.
“Good evening, Major,” I said as I came back toward the door. “Come on in.”
“Thanks,” Elaine said, taking off her Kevlar helmet and non-Army scarf. The bitter winter winds were coming back in from the East.
“How’s Bobby doing?” Karen asked of Major Crosses’ young son.
“He’s doing OK. That elderberry stuff is great. He’s just being a pill now, is all. Jenny’s back to almost full steam and starting to drive my Mom up the wall,” she answered, before a pause. “You’ve seen the news.”
“We have,” I said, saying with two words what many might not adequately convey.
“Come in for some tea,” Karen added. “You must be frozen.”
“I’m OK. It’s pretty tough to keep up a good attitude when you’re stuck outside all night though,” she said as she took her camo parka off and sat at the dining room table. “Our neighborhood patrols tend to do their watching from inside warm buildings.”
“Can’t say I blame them. We had enough nights out in the snow last year to last a lifetime. Any problems? I mean other than the obvious.”
“No. Cold’s keeping most everyone inside. That and the word is out that breaking curfew will get you killed for your effort.”
“Seeing what’s on TV, that shouldn’t be a surprise,” Karen said, pouring a cup of steaming tea.
“It shouldn’t be,” she repeated. “That’s why I’m here. Rick, they want you early,” Elaine said apologetically, looking more at Karen than me. Karen did not seem surprised. “There’s an outfitting session for your unit tomorrow at oh-nine-hundred. Have you wrapped up your transition at the County?”
“As much as need be, yeah. There’ll always be loose ends,” I said. “How soon before we ship out?”
“No more than a week, I think. Can’t really go into it in detail, more because I don’t know anything in detail. They’re aiming at a big call-up. The Army is expanding dramatically, more than I would’ve ever expected.”
“Yes. I don’t know if Mr. Bauer or Mr. Martin will get called up or not.”
“I doubt either would be accepted,” I said. “Ron’s got a heart condition, and Alan’s not exactly a kid,” before adding. “Of course, neither am I.”
“Honestly, Rick, if they’re breathing and can carry a gun, they’re pretty much eligible. They might get lucky and get passed over as performing an essential civilian function, but this will be huge.”
“What about the kids? How young are they going?” Karen asked.
“Not sure. Eighteen at present. I doubt they’d take anyone younger unless they were orphaned or emancipated or something.”
“How bad is Colorado, Elaine?” I asked, referring to the cryptic information we’d heard over the radio, and the story relayed to us by one of the Guardsmen down by the store. We’d heard updates on all of the civilian targets, but nothing more about the lead story, since it was first broadcast.
“I don’t know much more than I knew this afternoon. Nothing’s being broadcast, which should tell you volumes,” she said.
“Size of force attacking? Size of target? Casualties?” I said, getting a little impatient and frustrated, yet knowing that she probably didn’t have any more information than I did.
“Rick, honestly, I have no idea. I suspect we were hit very hard. I’m sure that we had a large force in the field.”
I paused for a few moments and leaned back in the captain’s chair. “There really won’t be any going back from this. Even after the betrayals that we’ve seen in the past….this sort of atrocity demands no prisoners.”
“I cannot disagree with that,” Elaine said. “I doubt that anyone in uniform tonight would.”
“How did the United States of America come to this?” Karen said rhetorically. “The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.”
“And have been for quite some time,” I added.
The Founders expected all of our troubles of course, and gave us ample and repeated warnings in the Declaration, the Constitution, and many other pieces of correspondence that made up the history and anecdotes of the founding of the United States.
Laying in bed, hours after Karen had drifted off to sleep, my mind went back to a time before the war, to electronic discussions with other like-minded men and women on ‘the future of our country.’
It was apparent to everyone that the whole system had become a fraud; that political parties only existed to increase their power; that banks and insurance companies and rating agencies and talk-show hosts were in out-and-out collusion to sucker the American public and the American business into a lose-lose game of gambling with the financial future.
I’d counted myself among a large handful of people ready to start a new political party, once based solely on the beliefs and guides given us by the Founders, a return to Constitutional guidance and uncommon, common sense. Unfortunately for the ‘Federationists’, time ran out before common sense could prevail. The backlash of nearly a hundred years, maybe more, of erosion of State’s rights, our personal rights, our financial engine, our international entanglements, were all spelled out for us in advance.
We refused to learn those lessons we now faced the harshness of remedial education. We’d grown as a culture too complacent, too dependent, too lazy to stand up. Maybe it is true that people only learn from personal experience, and that history is too abstract.
I wondered how many years, (or perhaps a generation or more) before we would return to the definitions, the respect, and the obligations of freedom and accountability?
It was tough getting to sleep, and once I finally did, it was a very short night.
The alarm rattled me awake, followed by the ascension of both dogs onto the bed.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” I said as Ada licked my face, Buck jockeying for position next to her.
“Morning,” I said to Karen, still snuggled under the covers.
“That is a matter of debate,” she said, sneaking over between the dogs and giving me a kiss. “What time are you going in?”
“Right off. I figured seven.”
“Get much sleep?”
“After a fashion, no.”
Karen snuggled closer, nudging Ada out of the way. “How old would your Dad be today?” she asked out of left field. That’s right, it was Dad’s birthday. I’d forgotten.
“Ninety-three,” I thought after doing the math.
“He’d be proud of you, you know.”
“No more than me of him,” I said cuddling her close by, despite Buck’s desire to take over the bed. “You going to be OK?” I said, before thinking a moment. “I mean…”
“No, but we’ll manage. I just don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Remember what I said, before my last misadventure. I will come home to you.”
“Maybe I need to be more specific,” she said with a little laugh. “’Come home in one piece and undamaged.’”
“That’d be good, too. Someday when we get through this, I owe you a trip someplace nice. I’m thinking Maui.”
“I can hardly think that far ahead. I don’t think you can either,” she said.
“I can hope. This can’t last forever.”
“No, but it can last a long, long time,” she said. “What if this is eighteen sixty-one all over?”
“What if it’s eighteen sixty-four?” I answered.
“Elaine looked worried. She knows something.”
“I imagine a lot of people looked scared, after seeing what happened yesterday. They’re targeting anything. Everything.”
“Your unit isn’t supposed to be near the front line, though….”
“No, we’re not, but this is war and things change.”
“You are too old to be doing this,” Karen said.
“Better me than our children, hon. You know I’m not exactly one to go looking for trouble.”
“What these people did was unthinkable…and you are going after them.”
“Yes, because it needs to stop. If I weren’t already being called up, I’d volunteer.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’ve never been more serious. My wife and children and my future grandchildren mean more to me than I mean to myself. If I can help stop these bastards, I will. Heck, if they ‘win’, I’m dead anyway. There’s no way they’d tolerate someone like me, someone who’d stand up to authority. And from what I’ve read, by extension, any of my relatives.”
Karen didn’t have a response to that.
“Honey, I’m going to do whatever I can, work with whatever men I can, to make sure that isn’t going to happen. With God’s help, we’ll win.”
“Don’t forget your gun this time. Take your Dad’s with you.”
“Planned on it. Army might frown on it, but it hasn’t let us down yet.”
“I have a surprise for you…well, the kids and I do anyway,” Karen said, finally giving up and letting Buck have the center of the bed. It was time to get up anyway.
“What’s that?” I said, finally putting my feet onto the cold floor.
“We’ll show you after you shower. You better get moving. I’ll get the fire on and get breakfast ready. Move it, soldier,” she said, giving me a kiss as she put her heavy robe on.
After my shower, I dressed in decent work clothes, figuring that I’d be wearing something in green by the end of the day. I’d also taken some time the night before after Elaine had left, to pack up some civilian clothes and other items to take with me during my time away. All of that fit in a medium sized pack, leaning against the damaged oak buffet in the dining room.
Downstairs, Karen had the fire in the woodstove going and Carl was trying to coax some more heat out of it. Kelly and Karen were making pancakes and eggs in the kitchen.
“Morning, you two. How’s our day looking?”
“Great if you like cold, dark, and cold,” Carl said.
“Carl, you’re such a grouch,” Kelly said.
“Not so much into cold, no,” I said, tousling his hair as he fed more maple kindling into the firebox. “Any new snow?”
“Didn’t look like it. More news, or I guess, more of the same on the TV. Local radio’s had just the curfew notice and weather. Rest of the time it’s network.”
“Hmmm,” I said as Karen handed me a big travel mug of tea. “Thank you my dear,” I said as I gave her a hug.
“Ready, kids?” Karen said.
“Sure,” they said in unison. “My get,” Carl said.
“We hadn’t really planned on giving you this until Christmas,” Karen said. “It’s hardly a traditional gift.”
“OK, now I’m intrigued,” I said. Carl emerged from his room with a long, well-finished wood case, complete with brass corner protectors, four latches, and a tooled leather handle. “Well now, what do we have here?”
“I think you’ll like it,” Carl said.
“Definitely a guy present,” Kelly said, amused but eager to see me open the case.
Carl placed it on the table in front of me. The case looked like furniture-grade cherry I noticed as I snapped open the latches.
“Merry Early Christmas,” they all said as I opened up the top. Inside the padded case was a beautifully restored and reworked Springfield 1903A3, and matching personalized leather pouches for ammunition and accessories.
“Wow…I don’t know what to say….other than thank you!” I said as I picked up the weapon. “Is this my grandfather’s?”
“No, we liberated one of your shooters. Annika did all the work except the stock. She’s got a guy in Greenacres who did that.”
“Black walnut?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Carl said.
“Like it?” Karen asked.
“Absolutely. I’m going to like trying this out,” I said, hoping I had time to do so before I shipped out.
“That one’s the fancy version,” Kelly said, coming back into the dining room from the kitchen. “This one’s more for work,” she said, handing over a second case, this one of stained plywood and painted steel fittings. This one was much heavier.
“TWO?” I exclaimed. “Unbelievable,” I said, opening up the second case.
“Pretty much the same custom work on both rifles. Synthetic stock on this one obviously. Anja called this a ‘serious, bad-ass sporter’,” Carl said.
“The scope tells me that much. Holy smokes,” I said, picking up the weapon. “Man this is light.”
“That one’s not one of your originals,” Karen said. “Anja built that one pretty much from scratch.”
I noticed there were more custom leather pouches in this case.
“Ammunition. Half of those are black-tip,” Carl said.
“Where on earth did you get that?” I asked incredulously. Black tipped 30.06 was armor piercing, very scarce pre-War and very, very expensive. My private stash had cost me several hundred dollars, pre-Domino.
“Actually, our old friend Scott McGlocklin sent that. Said you’d appreciate it.”
“This just gets better and better,” I said. Gunny McGlocklin was now down in Oregon, out of the Marines, and trying to keep a lid on things in the Oregon Zone. I hadn’t heard anything from him directly since the Spring. He took a distinct liking to my treasured Garand, and an equal amount of interest in my three Springfields. “It’s not every day a guy gets armor piercing ammunition and a finely crafted lead slinger, let alone two. These had to cost a fortune.”
“That is none of your concern,” Karen said, rubbing my shoulders. “And you need to quit drooling over your new presents and eat up. It’s getting late.”
“Yes’m,” I said. “She could be a drill instructor,” I said to the kids, who both grinned a little.
“I heard that,” she said from the kitchen. “And no, I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand dishing out or taking that kind of abuse any more than you’d like taking it.”
“Duly noted,” I said as she put a heaping steaming plate in front of me.
“Now eat. Enough chatter,” she said as she turned, whacking the back of my head along the way.
Carl pretty much monopolized our breakfast talk as he told me more about the re-worked, former ‘shooter.’ Built to National Match standards, including extensive trigger work, a hand-fitted stock and many hours of fine machine work to truly bring out the best possible performance. The ‘sporter’ had a composite stock, all the same machine and trigger work of the beautifully finished walnut-stock model, a custom-built Weaver-type scope mount that didn’t mess up the original firearm, and a Zeiss Conquest scope, that I was completely unfamiliar with. A scoped 1903 in general, I’d be unfamiliar with, I thought to myself. The stock ‘03 had a pretty good accuracy out to a couple hundred yards, at least for me and my aging eyes, and probably an effective range of not more than five hundred yards overall, but I hadn't experience with that. A ‘new and improved’ 1903….the possibilities were interesting, to say the least.
The morning’s activities included my formal swearing in, with Karen and the kids attending, in a private room at Camp Overbeck, administered by none other than General Robert Anderson himself.
Karen told Bob, “You keep him out of trouble, General, or I’ll hunt you to the ends of the Earth.”
“I will do my best ma’am.”
“You better,” she said, before turning to me. “See you tonight?” she asked me.
“Hope so. I’ll let you know. I have your number now,” I said, giving her a quick kiss and hug. I noticed Bob talking with Carl, from what I could overhear, about my 1903’s.
“You two take care of your Mom. I’ll call you later,” I said, giving both a hug and a kiss. With that, they made their way out, and back home.
“You have a delightful family, Rick,” General Anderson commented.
“Yes I do, sir. They tolerate me far better than I deserve.”
“What’s this about an -03 your son tells me?”
“Two. One was a casual shooter that they had rebuilt for me, more like transformed. Beautiful to the point of artwork. The second was, for lack of a better phrase, created out of thin air. I haven’t had a chance to use either of course. The second is more business. Synthetic stock. Big scope. Complete with AP rounds loaded up on strippers.”
“Bring it with you when you go. You might have a chance to use it.”
“So if I may General,” I said before being interrupted.
“Bob is fine, Rick,” he said, introducing a more casual conversation. “Let’s walk. I have an office in this maze somewhere.”
“OK, Bob it is, in private. What is it that brings you to Spokane on this cold, snowy day, right before Thanksgiving? And why am I being called up early?” I asked, as a couple of young Air Force airmen passed us in the hall, saluting in a bit of a surprised manner.
“In the office,” the General said, waiving me into a smaller-than-average office, at the end of the hall. Major Kurt George came out of the office just as we prepared to enter.
“General, report’s on your desk, current as of fifteen minutes ago, including comments from other commands, five minutes old,” the Major said. “Colonel Drummond, good to see you.”
“You, too, Major. I expect I’ll have a uniform one of these days to go along with my rank and command….”
“You will, I’m sure. Lieutenant Banks on the left there will set you up,” he said, pointing to a cubicle down another aisle. The General was right. It was a maze of a place.
“Major, convey my thanks to Communications in getting this so quickly,” the General said.
“Will do, sir.”
“Colonel, close the door,” he said moving to the desk chair, and flipping open a red folder. I closed the door and…waited for orders. “Take a seat.”
I moved to the chair opposite the desk and sat down. ‘This will take getting used to,’ I thought.
“You up to speed on that Command Summary that Walla Walla sent up?” Bob asked as he read the file, not looking up.
“Good. Now file it. Things changed yesterday, a lot.”
“Well, you think you do. That’s OK. Sixth Army was wiped off the map yesterday in Colorado. I mean, gone. Fifty-three thousand two hundred and six men and women, dead.”
“Holy sh•t.” I said, a chill going down my spine.
“Yeah, pretty much what I said, too,” he said, finally looking up from the report. “That isn’t all. Air Force and Navy air units were hit with similar effects, on a much smaller scale just due to population concentration, at seventeen installations all around the country. Alert facilities were locked down immediately and most of them had environmental controls that slowed the attack. Ground personnel didn’t have that option. Dead.”
“Neurotoxins. Odorless, colorless, no symptoms until lethal concentrations are achieved, then it’s death within minutes as you suffocate. Dispersal through the use of UAVs in some cases in most there were remotely detonated canisters set in and just upwind of troop and population concentrations. Silent release, sometimes at night, kills as you sleep, exposed to the airborne agent. Within thirty minutes of release, the agent neutralizes itself within normal atmosphere. Some key agent combines with airborne nitrogen and becomes inert.”
“So the enemy needs to be more than thirty minutes downwind,” I said, thinking about the clinical detail, rather than the up close and personal. “Which is why they found miles and miles of empty in Colorado. They were out of range.”
“After the agent became inert, the Statist forces moved back in, stripped communications gear, food, weapons, ammunition, armor, in some cases uniforms. And moved back West. We watched this on satellite and on UAVs. Our dead army is still on the ground, in the snow, where they died.”
“Jesus Christ. That means they’ve got open access to us. They can infiltrate us at will…”
“They think that, yes. It’s not quite that easy, although they don’t know that.”
“How’s that? They’ve got gear identical to ours.”
“Everything is RFID chipped, quite covertly, and is easily tracked. Uniforms, weapons, ammunition magazines. Tanks. Everything. The Statist commanders don’t know that. We can also remote detonate the tanks when we’re of a mind to. Goes for some other key gear, too.”
I didn’t have anything to say.
“Rick, your new assignment will eventually be as it was described, just as it was before you walked in this building. First, you’ll be doing that in addition to shuttling men and gear to the line. Going in, you’re running supplies and troops. Your orders are to help create a forward support base out of the wreckage that the S.A. forces have left, whatever the Hell that means, so that we don’t fight over the same ground twice. That piece of Colorado has already cost us more Americans than Gettysburg did on both sides.”
“Bob, how do we fight this? Our troops could be going right back into a trap.”
“Working on it. Air Force is bombing the sh•t out of them right this minute. Anything that had an RFID tag on it that moved west beyond Sixth Army’s position won’t be an issue. The line will be reestablished, with our troops in full-on chemical gear, shortly. Anything that crosses a predetermined frontier is taken out from the air.”
“You said earlier, that ‘going in’ we’re running troops and supplies.’ What about coming out?”
“After you first arrive, your transported troops will secure the battlefield. You will have media with you—press release on the attack goes out tomorrow morning. Your Brigade’s first mission will be to bring Sixth Army back. We are not leaving them there,” he said, looking at me, and through me, at the same time. “Questions?”
“No, sir. Not a one.”