Friday, March 12, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 34


Wednesday Afternoon
November Twenty-second
15:40 Hours

 “Chief,” I said to the parka-clad form in front of me, “Rick Drummond. Thanks for accommodating us.”

“Glad to do it, Colonel. I’ve got three patrols out to direct your men into the downtown area. Your train’s pretty long, so I expect we’ll be herding them around a little.”

“Second train will follow us in, and it’s about the same length. It’s been a few years, but as I remember it, most of the downtown area is a fair ways further south, is that right?”

“Used to be, but there’s been quite a bit of development up here on the north end. Streets are pretty well cleared as you can see,” he waved to the southwest a little, showing single-lane side roads and the cleared state highway which was the commercial artery of the small town.

“I’m not sure how many men might want to go for a walk. Pretty brisk out here today.”

“Good thing you weren’t here on Monday. We almost made it above zero. Colder’n last February, and that was damned cold,” he said. “So, where you from, Colonel?”

“Spokane. Born and raised,” I said as I gave the ‘all-clear’ to our railcar leaders, beginning the offloading of some of the men.

“You there during the big shake? Army and all?”

“Oh yeah.  I wasn’t Army then. Matter of fact, I’ve not been in the Army a full week yet.”

“Well, you must’ve been on some body’s shit list to get drafted at your age, no offense.”

“None taken. They tell me the opposite. Leadership of any kind is a little tough to come by right now.”

“I hear you there. There are a lot of towns out east of here that don’t have any kind of peace officers left. Either they run off when things got tough or they’re nothing like what you’d expect in law enforcement, ‘cept maybe in bad dream. I hear the further south you get, the worse it is.”

“Let me know where those towns are, if you would, and we might be able to do something about that, sooner or later.”

“Where you headed? This is one helluva big train. Biggest we’ve seen in months.”

“East, then south.” I didn’t need to say more, nor was I about to.

“Good for you. I hope you cut them bastards’ nuts off and feed ‘em to ‘em. Then put a bullet in ‘em. I saw what they did to them girls down there. They put it on TV this afternoon. Warned everyone what they were gonna show, so the kids could get outta the room, but by God the things they did…I never thought I’d see such a thing in America.”

“We’ve got our work ahead of us, Chief. No doubt about it.”

“Colonel, up ahead there on the left is a little restaurant…the Blue Dot. They’ve got the hottest coffee—the real thing—and the best pie in three counties. Spread the word. They’ll take care of you. Owner served in Gulf War One, lost his boy in Tucson last spring.”

“We’ll send some business their way. Thanks, Chief.”

“Glad to do it. You remember, Colonel. You fry their asses,” he said, almost spitting.

About a third of the men on Charlie took the opportunity to disembark, and found within a few minutes, that dozens of pickups and SUV’s were more than happy to ferry Third Washington around town. Word spreads pretty fast in small towns.
Before heading down to the restaurant myself, I made sure that the command car crew had a chance to get out, staying behind with a skeleton crew until they got back.  While I was waiting, more information came our way regarding the Livermore attack, with detailed losses, more classified information, force deployments in  Colorado and Nebraska, and confirmation that nerve agents were the culprit in the majority of the attacks.  Russian in origin, the report stated, and didn’t speculate as to how such quantities and delivery vehicles found their way into the hands of the Statists.

“Mr. Kennedy, you have one of the untraceable cell phones handy?”  I asked. We had a number of cell phones available for use, as long as they routed through the trains internal communications network, and as long as nothing remotely close to classified or containing anything about positions, strengths or tactics was discussed.

“Yes, sir. Here you go. Calling home?”

“Surprising the wife.”

“I’ll listen in per protocol, sir. And there’s a slight delay.”

“No prob.”  Private Kennedy could kill the call should anything sensitive get out.

I had to dig out Karen’s cell phone number, and punched it in.  It rang twice before she answered.

“Hiya, babe,” I said, noticing the slight delay caused by Kennedy’s equipment.

“Well this is unexpected!”

“How’re things on the home front?”

“Good. We just got Mom and two other ladies settled in, and two nurses, and their meds. It’s going very well. Can you talk? How’re you able to call me?”

“I can sneak a call now and then, as long as I don’t go into areas where I shouldn’t.”

“Where are you?”

“Well, I’m right here. That’s about as definitive as I can get. Things are going OK for my first real day on the job. Troops are doing well, too. How’re the kids?”

“Liking this week-long curfew, except the work they’ve got to do.”

“How strict are they calling the curfew? Everything staying shut down?”

“Stores are running weird hours, which is irritating, and everything’s shut down at dusk, no exceptions.”

We spent about ten minutes on the phone, mostly small talk on the surface, more being said between the lines, before the rest of the communications crew made it back. It was good to hear her voice.

“Heading down to the Blue-Dot, sir?” one of the techs, Private Wheeler, asked.

“Got something to recommend?” 

“Pecan pie sir. Killer.”

“That’ll work. Thanks.”

Another voice stopped me before I headed out the end of the car and out.

“At least another hour, sir.  Just heard from the engineers working up ahead.”

“Swell. Thanks. See you in a few,” I said as I hit the door.

I’d packed my thrashed Eddie Bauer parka for using when I wanted to blend in a little better than the new winter Army camo. I found, unexpectedly, the spare tractor key in one of the pockets.
The main street was much more developed than I’d remembered, with signs that showed boutiques, salons, and antique stores on the storefronts. Many though, were different stores than the expensive signs identified. Used clothing, small appliances, a harness shop in an old coffee bar, a bakery now housed in what was a nail boutique.   I was surprised at the number of Third Washington on the streets and spending some of their limited funds in the small shops.
I made my way up to the Blue Dot, a pre-War diner-style restaurant that could’ve been a clone from the Fifties.  Above the doors, I recognized a partial trunk and rear fenders from a nineteen-fifty Ford sedan, taillights equipped with blue dots in the style of the old rodders.  The place was packed with Third Washington’s men.  I opened the door and someone immediately called, ‘Tennnn-hut!

“Whoa, at ease already. I hear they’ve got pecan pie here.”

“Yes, sir, Colonel. Come on up to the counter here. Sarge, make a hole,” one of the lieutenants directed.

“Arch, got any of that pecan pie left?”

“Oh, yeah. Saved one for your C.O. This him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Colonel, nice to meet you. Arch Rivers. Made sergeant once upon a time. This’s my joint.”

“Thanks for the hospitality, Mr. Rivers. It appears the men are well taken care of.”

“If I had a few more lovely ladies to wait on them, I’m sure they’d be even more so.”

“Not hard to peg the entertainment value of a piece of pie…”

“…when it’s another piece they’re interested in,” he said, finishing my thought for me, making me laugh immediately.

“Got that right,” I said, taking a forkful of pie. Sinfully good almost described it.  “Wow, that’s good,” I said.

“Thanks. My late wife’s recipe.”

“And how did you get pecans?” I asked. “We haven’t been able to get them since before the Domino.”

“Creative trading with folks down south. Took some doing though.”

“Sounds like home,” I said. “We do a lot of that,” I said.  “I understand you served in the first Gulf War?”

“Yeah, lost my foot there. Ground pounder for ol’ George. Caught an RPG.”

“Thank you for your service, Sergeant. And for your son’s sacrifice as well.”

“Thank you Colonel. I miss that kid every day. He was a better soldier than I ever would’ve been, and he never saw twenty years old,” Arch said, before asking me about my service.

“Civilian. Governor decided that my time was best spent in service of the State. I’m not exactly what you’d call a regulation career-path officer.”

“Good. Then you still have some brains. Here, have some coffee,” he said as he poured me a huge mug. “Don’t know what it’s like now, but when I was in, they seemed to breed out the guys who could think on their feet and take initiative, at least in the Army. Focused on ‘diverse experience’ and ‘performance initiatives’ and endless classes. Keep that crap up long enough and you end up with a brainless collection of zombies who cannot think for themselves.”

“I think you just described the S.A.”

“Yeah, could be. Problem is that right or wrong, you’ve gotta have men that can think.”

Arch and I spent a few minutes talking as I finished up the pie (which was outstanding, I left a clean plate) before he beckoned me behind the counter to the inner workings of the Blue Dot for some private conversations.

“So, Colonel, do you have any medics aboard?”

“Of course. I take it that you’ve got a need?”

“No doc’s, no dentists, no meds for three months. Yeah, we have a need. The hospital’s all but boarded up—no one to staff it, no meds. Anything you guys can do to help out?”

“Depends on how long we’re here. Once we open up the medical car, there’s no telling on how long the lines might be as much as I’d like to. We’ve got a schedule to keep,” I said, hating the words as I said them.

“I hear ya.  How about anything more permanent -like …or maybe a traveling clinic. You guys got anything like that in Spokane?”

“We set up neighborhood clinics with rotations of docs from the hospitals and permanent clinics. Works out OK, but medicines are scarce or homemade.”

“Well, we’ve got nuthin’, and even the basic health care isn’t possible. Maybe put the word out to the Army?”

“I’ll do that. I assume you have EMTs or some folks with basic skills,” I said.

“Yeah, a few, but they’re overwhelmed and honestly, they don’t have the resources, the reference material, can’t really make good diagnoses…let alone supplies.”

“C’mon back to the train. We’ll hunt down our doc and see what we can do in the interim.”

“Much appreciated, Colonel. I’ve a couple of grandkids I’d like to see live past age ten.”

Arch and I, along with a dozen soldiers from Third Washington climbed into the back of a converted pickup truck to make the trip back up to the train.  The truck’s box had been removed, a flatbed installed, steps added to the back like a trolley, and a sheet metal top and partial sides added. The rest was open air, no lights, and the benches were two by twelves, facing the center aisle. The truck was branded with the City’s logo.   The men, once they realized whom they were traveling with, quieted down to a more military level and attitude.
I had Rivers wait in our conference room car, while I gathered up some stuff from the command car and had staff track down our medical officer, Dr. Jeff Willitson. 

“Arch Rivers, this is our chief medical officer, Doctor Jeff Willitson. Jeff, Columbia Falls has next to no medical staff left. I’m wondering if there’s something we can do, or get some help coming in.”

“We can try, Colonel, but there’s a global shortage of medical professionals that are not assigned to the war effort and as such, are near line units.  We can pose the question to Command, certainly.”

“I realize this is closer to home than we thought, but are there supplies you can provide?”

“Sure, we can help out to a degree. Once we reach destination, we’ll have resupply trains coming through regularly, barring something truly unfortunate,” Dr. Willitson said, referring to another attack.

“I’d appreciate that greatly, I’m sure the whole area would,” Rivers said. “Exactly what kind of supplies?  It’s not like we have a lot of training.”

“First, reference materials geared to the lay person. You have computer access? Not internet, just computers?”

“Sure. Those still work.”

“OK. Part of the gear we anticipated providing towns like yours include a series of CD’s with extensive reference libraries.  Load them up on the computers—and I’d make copies if I were you and share them widely—and those’ll get you a head start.  Some is military some is civilian—all if it is good stuff.  There’s a couple that I’d recommend starting with, like Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist.  Those two will cover a bunch of your basic needs.  Then there are more detailed references on a series of CD’s called Operational Medicine, those were produced by the Navy and Special Operations Command. They have photographic and video demonstrations of wound care, really too many other things to cover,” the doctor said.

“Now, supply-wise,” he continued, “are you ex-military?”

“Gulf War.  Second of the Sixteenth, Dagger Brigade, First Infantry.”

“O.K. Basis of understanding—You’ll get med supplies equivalent to a line battalion. That’ll have to last for awhile, until we get a steady stream of resupply and you get some more skills on the ground.” Willitson then, from memory, ran through most of the equipment complement. Most of it was over my head.

Arch was a little stunned. “You have that stuff, today?”

“Yes.  We can have it delivered to a location of the City’s choice in an hour. How’s that?”

“Better than I ever hoped, Doc.”

“Mr. Rivers, we will need to make sure that this equipment and the supplies go to the parties in charge of the region. Can you contact your leadership and put them in contact?”

“Doc, I’m the Mayor.  I have a city council of five. I have eleven deputies and one Sheriff.  I have six other city employees doing the work of twenty, one police chief, one combo EMT/fire chief.  Volunteer fire department. That’s it.”

“Sorry, Mr. Mayor. You’re entirely sufficient for the transfer.”

“No apologies necessary, Doc. And my eternal thanks.”

I found myself pleasantly surprised at twenty-one forty-five hours, that everyone was aboard the train, fifteen minutes ahead of our scheduled departure.  The fast reports requested from each squad leader up through the chain of command reported all accounted for and double checked.  No problems in town, of any kind. ‘I thought, it probably doesn’t get much better than this.’
The medical supplies for Columbia Falls had taken about a half hour to unload from one of the supply modules on the train, into six pickup trucks, lined up and headed back to the hospital.  Word of the supplies spread quickly throughout the town, and people were clamoring for them to be released almost as soon as they left the train car.  I thought that it might be a long night for Chief Davidson and Arch Rivers, and especially those with limited medical skill who’d now be pushed to provide more care than they were reasonably able.
I’d settled back into my ‘office’ a few minutes after pulling out of town, looking over the schedule for the rest of our trip.  If all went according to plan (and of course, we all know that plans are perfect until they’re implemented), within twenty-four hours we’d arrive at our destination, Sterling, Colorado. 
East of Sterling, we’d find Sixth Army. Somewhere further east of the Colorado state line lay the S.A. army, scattered between Grand Island, Nebraska and Manhattan, Kansas. U.S. Army intel stated that a corridor stretching from Interstates Seventy to Eighty, and some miles beyond, was being treated to the same scorched-earth tactics we’d heard of in Colorado.  Aerial reconnaissance was all but impossible due to dozens of shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles fired at any target.  Reports from Sterling stated that the munitions were Russian in origin. 
Satellite reconnaissance and data collection was a different matter, I was learning. We’d been led to the understanding that all GPS satellites circling the earth had been disabled in the early days of the Third War.  My own GPS displayed a screen stating, ‘No Signal’, and the little icons showing circling satellites were missing.  It had resided in the desk drawer at home since that time, stripped of its’ batteries, a useless electronic gadget. 
Air Force Space Command, however, had breached the innovation frontier, and launched via aircraft and unconventional space launch methods (meaning, converted U.S. Navy ballistic missiles) enough replacement satellite equipment to provide continuous targeting capability.  The ‘next-generation’ GPS satellites used signals unique to new, proprietary targeting software, which had been integrated into all U.S. acquisition and targeting hardware. If the ‘new’ hardware or software was captured, it could be used only until the next cycle of codes were integrated into the operating system….which happened randomly.  This in theory, could prevent the use of United States military equipment against United States troops….in theory, anyway. I was skeptical, because I know that there’s always someone out there trying to find the weak link and exploit it to its’ fullest.
With the losses of Vandenberg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral though, there was no way to launch, as of yet anyway, anything close to the capabilities of the National Reconnaissance Office’s now-dead KH satellites.  The lightweight recon satellites launched from converted B-52’s were though, better than nothing. The relatively poor quality images of Sixth Army on the LCD screen in front of me were completely adequate for counting the dead however, or locating the Marine and Army ‘front line’ units further east of Sixth Army, serving as the picket line for the dead. 

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