Friday, May 14, 2010
Christmas Eve dawned with hard rains and steady winds, threatening to turn to ice before the end of the day. The rains helped dampen the few fires still burning uncontrolled, and lessened the stench from the dead.
Third Washington had been deployed for less than three days; near the wreckage of a two S.A. trains destroyed by Air Force missiles and guided bombs. Several of the ordnance experts had secured the area around our train, clearing unexploded shells, surface to air missiles, and other materials to safe areas. The S.A. trains were rolling weapons platforms, as well as distribution centers for infantry and armor with all manners of ammunition and fuel. After securing our immediate area and transit paths to our location, the clearing crews went about securing areas hit by U.S. forces, clearing unexploded missiles and artillery.
United States artillery units had hit S.A. emplacements with 105mm and 155mm shells, systematically reducing them to rubble in a rolling wall of fire. The S.A. then dispersed to other locations in Lincoln, that were then targeted with very accurate, select fire. Larger, or softer targets were blanketed with multiple-launch rockets, to devastating effect.
The crew from Charlie went to work immediately on setting up feeding kitchens and shelters for the tens of thousands of civilians who were still in the city. Most had been without meaningful amounts of food for weeks. What they did not have hidden, the S.A. took, or it ran out as transit into and out of Lincoln was stopped during the siege. Unlike the other towns we had transited, there were no dogs anywhere. I didn’t wonder why. I was on my morning ‘rounds’ and ducked into Medical to get out of the rain. I’d picked up a deep cough, and my ribs were hurting.
“Colonel, good morning, sir,” a medic by the name of Bartleson said. He was restocking one of the supply cabinets from a recent shipment.
“Morning, Bart,” I said. ‘Bart’ was his nickname. I’d not heard his given name. “Doc in?”
“Yes, sir. Down in Bay Two, doing some sewing on an S.A.”
“Thanks,” I said. ‘S.A.’ as a label, stood for many creative labels all of them quite crude and in some cases accurate. I made my way down the container-car, where Jeff was working over a scalp wound. Three soldiers from Idaho had their weapons trained on the young man, who was probably in his mid twenties. He was bound with zip ties, hand and feet, very creatively tying the prisoner to near-immobility.
“Morning, Doc. One of our prisoners soon-to-ship, huh?”
“Has he been through intel yet?”
“No, sir. Fifteen minutes and he’s on his way to command though, where they can work him over at will.”
“Get that wound in action, prisoner?” I asked.
“No, sir. Abuse after capture,” he said, glaring at me with hate-filled eyes.
I turned to one of the men with weapons trained. “Anything to that, men?”
“Caught a bad patch of gravity, sir. Hit his head when he fell against one of our transport trucks. Missed a step on the way up into the back,” he replied.
One of the others chimed in before I responded. “Too bad you didn’t break your effin’ neck, you son of a bitch.”
“I was pushed,” the prisoner spat.
“Bull…..shit,” the younger soldier said, drawing out the word for emphasis. “And I saw the way you were shooting. You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the inside.”
“Right. Like I could miss after getting surrounded by fifty of you arrogant bastards.”
“Fifty my ass. Your blind and a liar. Eight man squad, you worthless piece of shit.”
“Soldier, I assume your C.O. has your after action,” I said.
“Yes, sir. Sorry sir.”
“No need to apologize. I’m always surprised when any come in alive,” I said. “We saw what they did in other cities and towns.”
“Didn’t seem all that sporting to shoot an idiot with a First War Russian bolt-action and no ammo, especially when he wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to use an attached bayonet, sir,” the soldier responded. “And I think he shit himself to boot.”
“He’ll probably do that when they hang him, too.” I said, not really caring one way or the other what the prisoner thought.
“All right. He’s done,” Doctor Willitson said. “Go get him cleaned up, medic.”
“Yes, sir,” the medic responded, leading the prisoner and his guards out the second door.
“Jeff, what do you think?” I said between coughs.
“That guy’s about as nearsighted as you could get and still tie his own shoes. Wouldn’t respond to me of course when I asked him about his eyesight, but he plainly can’t see well, which fits the story of the boys that captured that particular nest. I don’t think any of them still have glasses or contacts they might have had before the war, and our boys were probably right. Couldn’t hit a barn from inside it.”
“Hmmm. I wonder how prevalent that is,” I said.
“Quite prevalent, I’d think. Pre-War, seventy five percent of adults used some sort of corrective lenses, either contacts or glasses. We haven’t seen any of the S.A. dead or otherwise, with either, sir,” he said. “The other prisoners are more concerning to me, though.”
“How so?” I asked, after a cough that hurt.
“Colonel, I think they’re drugged. We’ve had some communications from the medical researchers at Command, who’ve been looking into it as well. Hadn’t seen it up close and personal until today though of course. That one,” he said, motioning to the prisoner that had just left, “I guess he was the equivalent of a platoon sergeant. He can still think, more or less. The others, they’ve got next to no short term memory. They do not appear to know what they’ve done, or where they are. They didn’t feel pain. Further, it doesn’t seem to matter to them. Without short term memory…it’s sort of like hypnosis,” he said.
“Drugs can do that? How often to they have to take them?” This possibility had never occurred to me.
“They can do that. An engineered drug, say with the properties of midazolam and an opiod, designed for long lasting effect, and reinforced on a regular basis, and you could end up with the S.A. line soldiers we saw today. The drug could create anterograde and retrograde amnesia. They wouldn’t remember much if anything. They could take orders without much trouble. Add an opiod and they don’t feel pain, have euphoria, and are happy as Hell to be wherever they are, as long as they get their hit. Highly suggestive. Easy to boss around.”
I thought about that for a minute, and coughed again. “Damned ribs,” I said.
“How long you had that cough?”
“Coupla days, I guess.”
“You up on all your immunizations, Colonel?”
“Got an armload and a butt-load back in Spokane. I was pretty current on everything else before the War, for this continent anyway.”
Jeff ordered me to peel off a couple of layers, and listened to my breathing.
“Chest pains? Left side?”
“Well, yeah, but I had a slug of broken ribs in August, so that’s nothing new.”
“Chills? Signs of a fever?”
“Not particularly. Tired a lot though,” I said.
“Colonel, if I were a betting man, I’d say you have a mild case of pneumonia. Your heart rate is elevated. We’re going to get you a chest film and run some tests.”
“You serious? I’m that sick?”
“You checked out for having had the Guangdong this past year, right?”
“Yeah. Knocked me on my butt. Got it early.”
“Alpha strain, before the mutations diluted it. Then you’re probably a prime candidate for pneumonia. Permanent lung scarring. We’ll know after the tests.”
“Jeez. I came in here for an aspirin.”
“Good thing you did. It’d suck to spend Christmas on an IV antibiotic.”
“What’s the fix for this?”
“Oral antibiotics, which we have of course. Probably a longer regimen than normal, like ten to fourteen days. In the old days, before the G-Flu, it would take three to five. Compromised immune system and scarred lungs, we’re not taking chances.”
“OK. What else?”
“Stay inside where it’s relatively warm, away from anyone else that’s ill. A whole lot of rest. A whole lot of fluids…for a week. I know this’ll cramp your style, sir. You won’t be on any line unit, you won’t be serving chow, you won’t be welding up some beat to Hell Stryker. Get Lieutenant Colonel Schaefer to handle the outside work and reviews of the battalions operations. Stay the Hell out of the medical tents, the hospitals, and away from any refugee. They’re walking biology experiments,” he said before turning his attention to one of the pharmacists. “Howard, set up the Colonel with A-Fourteen, twice daily.”
“Yes, sir, Doctor,” the balding young man said, turning his attention to the drug storage compartment in the back of the rail car.
“Colonel, you aren’t one of those difficult officers that I have to have watched, are you?” Jeff asked, with a slight tilt to his head and a wry smile. “You know, the kind that don’t follow orders?”
“Depends, Doc, on if the orders are stupid or not. Yours aren’t. Don’t worry.”
“Good to know, Colonel.”
Once the civilians started to come out of hiding, it quickly became apparent that the medical teams had nowhere near enough manpower to address the situation, and we’d reassigned anyone available to assist and go through additional training. In addition to dehydration and starvation, there were hundreds of cases of measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, and dysentery. Doc Willitson thought we might also have patients with significant parasitic infections.
‘Dog Six’ deployed as planned, more or less, and began to organize from chaos, the remains of the rail yard. Wrecked S.A. railcars and locomotives needed to be cleared, the tracks repaired, all the while under the watchful eye of the ordnance clearing teams, with incoming supply trains breathing down our necks. We needed the supplies to function and to equip both ‘Able’ and ‘Baker’ and the many other units in the area; tend to the needs the civilians; and we needed an intact and operational rail yard to and manpower to unload and distribute. I met with a brigadier from California on the second day of our deployment, told him of the cluster that I found myself in charge of, and we had every man under his command at our discretion. Things were beginning to shape up.
“Colonel, crews from the Two Four Nine will have the rest of the main campus on line from rolling power within an hour,” Gary Ryder said. “Finishing up fault testing now, and the hospital district is powered up now.”
“Good. Thanks, Gary. Second and Third Battalions done with their sweeps?”
“By eleven-hundred, sir. First can then start shifting military and civilian critical care patients to St. Mary’s and the V.A. center. Secondary and tertiary care will remain at the University. Are you planning on making a run over there, sir?”
“Nope. Doctors’ orders. I apparently am working on a case of pneumonia.” That drew looks from everyone in the Command Car.
“Sir?” Major Ryder questioned, obviously surprised.
“I have duty restrictions per Doc Willitson. And meds. And orders to get lots of rest. Find Jim Schaefer and get him back to command, if you would.”
“Will do, sir.”
Eight hundred of our troops were working the University of Nebraska campus, room by room, to ensure they were clear for civilian occupation. The first sweep through the campus showed many shuttered buildings, relatively undamaged. Some of the data from the administration building showed that enrollment was twenty percent of pre-War levels.
With heat and electricity, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could house many thousands. We knew that with the rapid progression of the U.S. into formerly S.A. territories, we wouldn’t be in Lincoln very long.
I’d taken lunch in my quarters, and been treated to another batch of letters from home. Afterwards, I’d take a nap. Whatever Doc gave me, was obviously knocking me down. Carl’s letter was pretty much all business. Kelly’s was as expressive as her personality.
I hope things are going OK wherever you are. Carl and I have been working to keep up with Mom, who has turned into a tornado around here. She’s going a million miles an hour! We just finished canning a bunch of the squash. I don’t think I want to see another butternut for a year.
Both of us are way ahead on our classwork, and we’ll probably both graduate early! I know, I have years to go, but it’d be great to be out of school by the time I’m seventeen!
Grandma is doing pretty well, and is getting around in a wheelchair at her house. She said to “give you her thanks for all he’s done for my family.” She’s working on her cross-stitch again, but she’s not as ‘sharp’ as she used to be.
We’re going to have the Pauliano’s for Christmas, and Mom and Aunt Mary are working on the menu already. We helped them move some more stuff from Uncle Joe’s place last Sunday, and Sarah said that the hospital would be able to get Joan a more steady supply of medicines for her arthritis. They made us an apple crisp for our work, with fresh cream from their cows! OMG it was good!
We’ve also been dehydrating some of the apples, they aren’t keeping very well. Uncle Alan built a big dehydrator out of a little electric furnace, and it’s absolutely amazing. I think we have enough apple slices for years. I wish we had more cinnamon! He built that in the big garage across the street from his house—you know, the one where the house burned?
Mom’s been teaching me how to drive the Expedition too. Don’t worry, I go slow and it scares me. It’s too big. Do you think that someday I can have my own car? Like the Mustang or the Convertible?
Aunt Libby, Uncle Ron, Marie and I went over to Coeur d’Alene last Friday. Carl wanted to go but had to work at the church. I didn’t know that the big hotel was gone. It was pretty sad. There was a big lake boat though near the beach. Uncle Ron called it a ‘lake steamer’. I guess it has a steam boiler? Without gas it’s not very easy to get around or across the lake. Probably easier when it’s frozen over though. What’s an ‘ice boat?’ And how do you race them?
Mom’s hollering that I need to get to bed. I’m praying for you every day—stay safe, Daddy!
All my love—
I finished it, another letter from Karen, and put both back in their envelopes. ‘I’ll have to find time to write more,’ I thought, lying back down on the bed. Before I could even shut my eyes, my computer came to life.
“Colonel, sorry to disturb you,” Jim Schaefer said through the messaging program. “We’ve got something you ought to take a look at.”
“Be right there, Jim,” I said after activating the microphone. ‘Swell,’ I thought.
A few minutes later, I was looking at the fresh email from Command. We’d have aircraft on the ground by days end…a lot of them.
“How’s ‘Able’ doing on the runways?”
“Runway is good. A couple of the aprons are behind schedule, but they’ll be ready, Colonel,” Schaefer said.
“Kittrick? How long until the fuel train rolls in?”
“Two hours, twenty minutes present speed, sir.”
“Jim, anyone check the fueling from the rail lines to the airport tanks? Or the airport tanks for that matter?”
“Unknown, sir. I’ll call over to Able Command and check.”
“Thanks. Not real smart to leave this many tank cars full of avgas out in the open.”
“Colonel Drummond, sir,” a new-to-Charlie comm tech said, “We’ve got an Air Force Oh-Eight on Secure Two for you, sir.”
“Affirm. Secure two,” I said, punching up the code for the channel. “Jim, listen in on this.”
“Colonel Drummond, Third Washington,” I said, seeing Schaefer at one of the consoles.
“Colonel, this is Major General David Rowe at Lackland Air Force Base. Colonel, Lincoln is going to be a forward operating base for close air support operations starting immediately. How are repairs coming? You got a runway for us?”
“Runway’s ready for anything up to twelve-thousand nine-hundred. A couple of aprons are still receiving repairs, and we’re working on verifying the in-ground fueling system. Rail tankers are coming in this afternoon, General, two hours and change.”
“We’ve got a pair of C-17’s that’ll be on the ground within two hours. They’re carrying mobile air traffic control and short-range drone fire control systems, but we’ll need ground power almost immediately. Can you accommodate us?” he asked.
“Affirmative, General. We have power at the airport from one of our rail mounted generators, and will be setting up stationary generating units there and at several locations, for mid-term use.”
“All right, Colonel. That’s what I wanted to hear. After the first two -17’s expect to see a pretty dramatic increase in traffic as aircrews and support come into Lincoln. You’ll see traffic from all branches, naturally, and a couple of trains that aren’t on your schedule.”
“I’d expect that, sir.”
“Outbound cargo and passenger aircraft are open for refugees, after military wounded are taken care of, Colonel.”
“We’ll need to get after that, sir. We have thousands of civilians here, many needing advanced medical care. We have about a thousand wounded soldiers. We’re doing what we can, but…”
“Get them on the outbounds and anyone else who wants to go. They’ll be in the way or a distraction to our men—you included. There’s plenty of room out of the war zone and they’ll be better off outta there. Clear?”
“Good job, Colonel. I’ll see you in the next day or so. Rowe out,” he said, then the line went dead.
I looked over at Jim as he took of his headset.