Friday, March 26, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 39


November Twenty-fourth
1730 Hours

Chief Armstrong was helping others finish setting up their temporary homes, and saw us pull in.  We met not far from his camper set up, where he was helping another volunteer with their trailer jacks.

 “Good evening, Chief. Getting settled in?”

 “Doing fine, Colonel. Thanks,” he said. “Nice having shore power, such as it is.”

 “We’ve got a lot of capacity, Chief,” Chet Travis said. “Not much in town worth powering up without a population.”

 “How many civilians left here?” Jess asked.

 “Not many,” I responded. “Virtually all of them will be housed over in one of the dormitories tonight. Williams Hall, I think it is. Engineers will have power back up over there any time, Chief.”

 “We’ve seen a lot of that in this state,” I said as I noticed Chet getting a call in his ear.  He stepped away for some privacy.

“Chief, I’d like to invite you to dinner this evening. I’d like to hear about your time in Denver, if you’d care to tell.”

“I’d be most happy too, Colonel. Mind if my wife joins us?”

 “Not at all! I didn’t know your wife came along,” I said. 

 “She was traveling a few trucks back with some friends. If you don’t mind, let me catch her before she gets our dinner on,” he said as he headed for his camper.

“No problem, Chief,” I said as Chet came back to the conversation. “What’s going on, Chet?”

 “Texans are safe and sound in North Platte, Colonel. Train’s on the way back, with three hundred and sixty-one civilians. All from Sterling, sir.”

That surprised me, perhaps it ought not to have.

 “All right, we’ve got a couple of hours at best to get them a place to stay. Not real fond of the idea of turning them loose to their own homes until daylight.  What’s the status of the refit on that dorm? Can we get the other dorms up and running?” I asked.

 “We’ll have most of the campus up within the next couple of hours, sir. I think the dorms are all part of one, big complex.”

 “Let’s get some men working on cleanup.  I’m also betting they’re going to need a hot meal.”

 “Mess is already on it, sir.”

 “Chet, remind me again why I’m here?” I said.

 “To take all the flack from above, sir,” he said with a smile.  “Actually, the comms guys passed on info to the duty staff, and they started getting ready almost immediately.  We should have about two hundred men making a sweep through the dorms to double check them, and a hundred or so on cleanup. Security will be there overnight, and will also have to check our men to make sure no looting’s going on.”

 “Assuming anything’s left worth stealing,” I said. Looting and theft weren’t just limited to the S.A., unfortunately.

 “One more thing, sir.  That train’s carrying an Army media crew, been on the ground since before the Sixth went down. They apparently have a fair amount of video of the S.A.’s operations up in North Platte, the Air Force hit, and their evacuation. There are orders back in the command car for both Third Washington and this crew.”

“Media crew. Swell,” I said. About the last thing I thought we needed was a bunch of photographers.

 “Yes, sir,” Chet said as Chief Armstrong approached, his wife on his arm.

 “Colonel Drummond, my wife Gabrielle,” Jess Armstrong said, presenting his bundled-up wife.

 “Ma’am, pleased to meet you,” I said. “This is Sergeant Major Chet Travis.”

 “Sergeant Major, Colonel. Thank you for the dinner invitation. I wasn’t looking forward to another can of stew for dinner,” she said as she shook our gloved hands.

 “I hope we can do better, but honestly Mrs. Armstrong, no promises.” I noted that she had a slight accent, perhaps German.

 “That’s fine, Colonel. We’re happy just to be here.”

 “Let’s get out of this snow. Looks like our weather predictions are as accurate as ever,” I said, directing them over to the Humvee, and radioed ahead, making provisions for my dinner guests.

We made the short trip back to the group of command cars quickly, despite the clogged wipers on the Humvee. There was too much noise to carry on a conversation between the back seat and front, unless we wanted to shout.  Once we disembarked, it was more civilized to converse.

 “Colonel, I have some business to attend to over in Command. I’ll have a report on your desk by nineteen hundred on your desk regarding the incoming train and accommodations for that incoming crew.”

 “Thanks, Sergeant-Major. Remember to get some dinner yourself.”

 “One of the benefits of being in the command car, sir. Delivery service.”

 “True. Cold food, but it is delivered,” I said, drawing a smile. We did have a microwave though, so it could be warmed over, instead of merely ice cold.  
We headed down the train a couple of cars to our conference room, which had been restored to its planned use, with the departure of the Texas unit.
I’d asked for Captain Gerry McGowan to join us. As our intel officer, he might be able to get some info out of our dinner conversation that I’d miss, or ask a question that I would not.

 “Are you entirely based on this train?” Gabrielle asked.

 “Of sorts, yes. Primarily for travel, and then we setup and expand. We’re not a front line unit—meaning, we’re not really geared for combat, ma’am.”

 “Please, call me Gabby. Everyone else does.”

 “It’s quite civilized,” Jess said. “I didn’t quite know what to expect, Colonel.”

 “Call me Rick, if you please. I’ve been ‘Rick’ far longer than ‘Colonel,’” I said.  “I’ve asked one of our officers to join us for dinner, if you don’t mind. He’s our intelligence officer. I thought he might learn a thing or two.”

 “That’s fine. It’s been a helluva place, Denver. Never thought we’d see anything like that happen here,” Jess said.

Over dinner, we compared notes on our experiences in dealing with the collapse.  Jess and Gabrielle lived in Littleton, rather than Denver proper, in a retirement subdivision.  Their home backed up to a small lake though, and Gabby quietly turned their back yard into a farmyard as homes around them were foreclosed and vacated. They raised chickens, goats and sheep, and had discovered ‘permaculture’ through a website created by an Oklahoma City resident, called ‘Better Times Almanac of Useful Information.’ The lake proved valuable over the summer, as the ‘Federal Government’ cut off water to most of the urban area at varying times of day, for no apparent reason.  It demoralized the civilians, probably encouraging them to relocate out of the Denver area. 
Fewer people to complain, which is what the ‘Federal Government’ wanted, I thought.  The Armstrongs and their small group buckled down, stayed off the radar, and waited.

“It was apparent right quick after they relocated from D.C. that things weren’t what they should’ve been,” Jess said. “Even with the dirty bombs going off, the war and all that, it just didn’t feel right. They locked everything down within their ‘Federal District’. Took whatever they wanted from the stores, the shops and groceries. Accountable to no one.”

Gabby added in her beautiful accent, “It was understandable at first, but it just grew and grew. We welcomed them at first, encouraged everyone to make their transition easy, and that seemed to just fuel their sense of entitlement.”  I noted that Gerry was thinking hard on that statement.

 “What’d the local government do? Or the state government for that matter?”  I asked. 

 “State couldn’t bend over backwards fast enough, which compromised any attempt at resistance from the get-go. They were neck-deep in it all. Probably half of the state government left with the S.A. when they pulled out. Some of the state workers up and left. Anyone that showed any backbone was ‘reassigned to benefit the recovery,’ which meant they disappeared. A bunch…no one knows,” Jess said.

 “Our local police department was ordered about by the Feds, right and left,” Gabby said. “One of the officers said that they’d seized all of the police rifles and shotguns, and left them with only their handguns.”

 “What about your own weapons?” Gerry asked. “Were they seized?”

 “They would’ve been, had they not been stashed away.  I did have a couple of sacrificial weapons for them, to make it look good. Old Savage deer rifle with a cracked stock and a rusty .32.  Oh, and a crumbling box of ammo each, just to make it look good,” Jess said.  “A few days after the seizures were wrapped up—which was found out word of mouth—they jammed all the normal broadcast frequencies, and burglaries and home invasion robberies started.  Too organized, knew what they wanted and tore the places up trying to find it. Silver. Gold. Diamonds. Jewelry. Food. Took whatever they could load up and left. And they had the guns.”

“Were you robbed as well?” Gerry asked, taking notes as he did so.

 “Let them in, saw them coming,” Gabby said. “We just stayed out of the way.”

 “Knew it was coming though,” Jess said, pouring another cup of coffee.  “Most of our stored food actually ended up in the walls of the house well in advance of it all.”

 “What’d you do with your livestock?”

 “They had no idea what to do with it. Left it untouched. If it didn’t come in a can, box or bag, they left it,” Jess said.

 “So, I’ve got to ask, you don’t have to tell of course, where did you stash your weapons?”

 “Buried PVC sewer pipes, dummy drain pipes in the house, dummy ductwork and a fake air conditioner. With the exception of the buried pipe, all of it was in plain sight,” Chief Armstrong said with some pleasure.

 “Don’t forget my little .38 and some of the ammunition was hidden in the entertainment center,” Gabby said.

 “Not exactly, hon,” Jess said, explaining further. “We had a twenty-seven inch TV set that died a few years ago. I gutted it and put an LCD in the case. Left lots of room behind it for contraband.”

 “What about fuel for your vehicles, and restrictions on travel? Can you tell us how that went?” Gerry asked.

 “Once the guns were gone, you only got enough gas to get to your ‘imperative employment location.’ If you didn’t have a job that ‘FedGov’ deemed ‘imperative,’ you were screwed,” Jess said. “No job, no food vouchers.  That said, I had about a hundred gallons of diesel stored for the GMC. They walked right over it when they came into the house. It was in a little area I remodeled, right under the front porch. Coupla nice big metal tanks.”

 “Did you have ‘imperative employment?’” I asked.

 “Gabby did. Critical care nurse. I’ve been a kept man since retirement,” Jess said.

 “Don’t let this Yank pull the wool over your eyes, Richard,” Gabby said…she never did call me ‘Rick.’ “While I was tending the sniffles of the Statists running the place, he was working against them every step of the way.” 

 “Do tell,” Gerry asked. “If you don’t mind. I’m interested in learning about your resistance methods, if you don’t mind.”

 “Not a problem, Captain,” Jess said.

 “Call me Gerry if you like.”

 “Will do,” Jess replied. “The area has  a substantial population of retirees from all branches.  Anyone who’s served more than a tour and has some life experience behind them could smell that something wasn’t right. Most everyone, with a little fair warning, dropped down low years back. Cash purchases of firearms, ammunition, supplies, and bought at various locations. Nothing bought in one lot, at one time, nothing on credit. Multiple locations of stored product.”

 “You knew this was coming?” Gerry asked.

 “Sure, kid. You’re what, about thirty?”

 “Thirty-two,” McGowan replied. He seemed older to me, I thought.

 “Son, I’m thirty-four years older than you are, saw action on three continents, heard and saw stuff I wasn’t ever intended to see.  This country’s been in a downward spiral for the better part of forty years, my opinion. Probably longer than that, it’s just that I’ve been paying attention that long. One thing I learned way the Hell back was that government eats to survive. It destroys. It does not create.  When the U.S. government forgot how to fight wars, but got really good at prolonging them, I knew it was a matter of time. A whole lot of us did. By the end of my first six years in, I could see the writing on the wall. General Eisenhower said it back in the Fifties. Military-Industrial complex.  He forgot the Financial side of the triangle, though. Started developing a network back then. Lost some members, gained others.”

 “Network?” I asked.

 “Consider it, Colonel, a mutual-aid network. Cell based, small enough to not draw a lot of attention.”

“Leaderless resistance,” I said, all too familiar with the concept.

“Yes, of course with the common goal at mind at all times: The preservation and defense of the Constitution of the United States of America.”

“How big is your typical cell? Gerry asked.

“Three. No more or less,” Jess replied. “Recruiting happens rarely, generally from people who’ve sworn to uphold the Constitution, and then proven their willingness to do so.”

“Usually military then,” I said.

“Almost universally.  Maybe three percent are law enforcement, non-military recruits, damned few politicians,” he said. I noticed Gabby was keeping very quiet.

“I won’t ask about your operations, unless you’d care to tell.”

“Sure, I don’t mind. Operations are done around here anyway,” Jess said.  “Our cell and our sister cells are going inactive again, and no one could find ‘em if they tried.”

“We don’t want you to compromise anything, Jess,” I said. “Honestly, this is probably more for my own curious nature. It’s fascinating.”

“I’m immune from prosecution, I assume,” Jess said.

“Anything you care to say stays in this room,” I replied.

“There were a number of operations carried out, once the S.A. exposed themselves. Before that, generally information gathering and generation of contingencies, some of which was fed to the legitimate military. Whole lot of intel happens that way.  The operations that I know of decapitated the S.A.’s Court of Equal Justice, and the removal of a dozen or so other officials from this mortal plane within a matter of hours. That didn’t happen until after we’d heard they’d decided to pull back to Chicago, so the natural chaos of an evac was an opportunity to exploit.”

“I’ll bet,” I said. “I’m very impressed, Chief, to put it mildly.” The ‘Court of Equal Justice’ was the S.A.’s version of the Supreme Court, and dispensed anything but ‘equal justice’ from what I’d read of their ‘Judgments for the People,’ which included sixty summary rulings handing all power to the State, along with most property that wasn’t already controlled by the State Board of Industry.

 “Colonel, they made it absurdly easy. Within an hour or so of the operation starting, word got out of course, they got all panicky and bailed on most of the more sensible security protocols. Making it even easier and lower risk, of course.”

 “How many men did you lose?” Gerry asked, assuming that in any operation of this nature, some would be captured or caught.

“None. Two close calls. The work was all done, shall we say, at a distance. After that operation, everyone faded right back into the fog.”

 “Formidable opponents,” I said.

 “Those willing to give their lives for their beliefs always are, sir.”

 “Chief, did you see that kind of dedication in the faces of the S.A?  Are we fighting against ‘true believers’ or opportunists here?”

“The opportunists cut and run, they’re the balance of the leadership of course. Bunch of self-serving bastards. The true believers stand and fight, with the exception of their high command.  Here, in Sterling, this was an action of true believers.  Well-planned, well-executed, minimal casualties of friendlies from what I hear.  The opportunists are in Chicago by now. Those in the field—those that did this—they’ll go to the mat. Doesn’t matter the cost, they’ll pay it with their men’s lives. They’ve shown time and again no sense of mercy, and they should be shown none in return. Do you disagree, Colonel?” Jess said, leaning forward on the table.

“Not remotely, Chief. I’ve dealt with both types you’ve described over the past year.”

 “‘They’re everywhere,’ we used to say, ‘and they vote,’” Gabby said.  “Colonel Drummond, I saw Europe, I watched citizens rights get whittled down year over year; I watched the nations dissolve and the E.U. emerge, always taking more than it gave. I watched as ‘movements’ became ‘religion.’ I watched what happens when mediocrity rules and when compromise reigns.  Those that are true believers take over, fractionally at first, too small to really notice as the people are distracted with famous people having scandals. When the changes approached a singularity—and the rate of change reached a round number—say the number hit one—and the changes then doubled, and doubled again, the cascade happened too quickly to stop and too quickly to influence. And, of course, too quickly to ever understand. Soon enough, Europe could not recover,” she said with passion. “I may have been born in Schweinfurt, Colonel, but I am an American first.  I will do what is necessary to protect my country.”

 “Very well spoken, Gabrielle, thank you. I’m assuming you had a role in the resistance as well?” I asked.

 “I did. I will not speak of it, however. You simply do not need to know, Richard,” she said with both words and piercing green eyes.

 “Understood. But I thank you, nonetheless,” I said, which gained unspoken approval on her part.

 “Colonel, I think it’s time we headed back to our chateau on wheels,” Jess said as he stood up. “It has been a pleasure though breaking bread with you and Gerry here, though.”

 “You as well, Chief. We’ll do what we can to help you out while we’re here.  We should be seeing that train arrive with our returnees any time now. I’ll have you taken back over,” I said, shaking their hands. “I have to say, I don’t really have words to tell you how proud I am that there are people like you both out there.”

 “One day, Colonel, they’ll say, ‘they’re everywhere, and they vote.’”

 “I hope so, Chief.” 

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