Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 53


December 31
University of Nebraska Medical Center
13:00 Hours

My second major task of the day was to meet with several hundred civilian survivors and to outline relief operations after the Army moved east. We didn’t have long, and Omaha was as damaged as any city I’d ever seen, mine included.  It would be years to rebuild in a perfect world. In our imperfect world, decades.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you would take your seats, we’ll begin,” Lieutenant Kittrick announced to the assemblage. Kittrick was my audio-visual geek today, running a PowerPoint presentation on a salvaged laptop. The communications crews had salvaged a couple hundred computers in Omaha and had set them up to run DVD’s of our resource library.  During their salvage operations, they found only a handful of working AM/FM radios, and no shortwave receivers or transceivers. The computers would be distributed to community centers, shelters, and surviving libraries, and more radios would be shipped into the city.

“Good afternoon. I’m Colonel Rick Drummond, Third Washington. Thank you for attending today,” I began.

“I’m not career Army. A year ago, I ran a consulting business in Spokane.  On the fourteenth of January, that changed.  The Domino earthquake hit the Pacific Northwest, the subduction quake probably also triggering the eruption of Mount Rainier.  We lost hundreds of thousands of people. We were also thrown into a situation that most of the population were completely unprepared for. I’m here to help you with some information that we found crucial in getting through a pretty bad year,” I said as Kittrick punched up a map.

“So far, one hundred locations more or less, have been identified as potential community centers where these library resources will be located,” I said as the map was joined by a list, and the attendees rapidly took notes, I suppose finding locations nearby.

“In Spokane, these locations included pre-Domino community centers and centers and shelters set up after the quake; fire stations, hospitals, and neighborhood schools.  In our city, National Guard units were also usually co-located in each neighborhood,” I said, hearing some displeasure at that comment.

“Please recognize, that we, like Omaha right now, didn’t have enough civilian law enforcement to go around. There was looting. There was theft. Home invasions. People died because they had food. Most of Omaha is disarmed, meaning that it’s likely that the people that have weapons aren’t necessarily the good guys.  The Army will be re-arming you with weapons and ammunition captured as well as new weapons brought into the area. Security forces will train you on their operations, and you’ll have to demonstrate basic safe weapons-handling and be of age of course,” I said, getting a few chuckles from many of the grey-hairs present, “before you’re provided a weapon. As a civilian, my family and some friends sort of adopted our military units watching over our neighborhood. It was a good way to get inside info, take care of the men who’re taking care of business, and make friends.  You’d be surprised how much influence fresh-baked bread and fried egg sandwiches have, not to mention fresh coffee or hot chocolate.”

“The information provided on these DVD’s includes thousands of topics.  A lot of this stuff I used myself. Some stuff I added to the resource library where I noticed a gap--consider these interim survival resources after most of the military moves out. Basics like shelter. Water. Heat. Food. Cooking and heating with wood, field expedient housing, insulation, air locks and mudrooms, food preservation, communications, and self defense tactics.  You’ll want to formalize neighborhood patrols with both your civilian and military forces. You’ll need to work out communications systems.  Radios are hard to come by, probably will be for some time, but we’ll see that portable radios are shipped in and distributed. Cellular system is toast.  Omaha might be a decade in rebuilding, maybe longer, and the rebuilt city will not resemble the old. We are not what we were a year ago; you will not be in a year, what you are today.”

“We have fifteen men from Third Washington to give you some guided tours through the information, and we’ll be here until three p.m.,” I said as I wrapped up my remarks. “And I commend you all for making it this far.”

I spent the better part of an hour talking about various topics, from cooking in a cast-iron Dutch oven to water filtration, improvised insulation to creation of observation posts and neighborhood militias. My voice was starting to go, and I needed a break.
I almost made it to the coffee pot before I was met by a young man, perhaps twenty-five or so, with a young woman, I assumed his wife, trailing just behind, cradling a very young child.

“Excuse me, Colonel? Do you have a moment?”

“Absolutely. Call me Rick.”

“I’m Danny Seifert, this is my fiancĂ© Susan. We’re originally from Federal Way.”

“Nice to meet you. Sorry about your hometown,” I said. Federal Way was south of Seattle proper, and was equally devastated. I’d seen the aerial and satellite imagery. “Did you still have family there?”

“Yes, sir.  We haven’t heard from them since last New Years. We were students here, until it hit the fan.”

“What can I do for you both?” I asked.

“We’re wondering, sir, if there’s a chance we can evac back home. We know that there’s probably not much left back there, but we can’t stay here and go through much more. It’s either west or down to Texas,” he said. “We haven’t seen much of what was left back home.  I might still have family back there, up in Everett.  Sue had some cousins in Omak and out near Republic.  Can you tell us how things are there?”

“Colonel, er, sorry. Rick,” Susan said. “Things happened here that we cannot live with. We have to leave,” she said as the baby started to fuss a little, looking at Danny with some expectation on her face.  The child could not have been more than a few weeks old. The more the woman talked, the more I could see the trauma just behind her soft, brown eyes.

“Let’s go find a little private place to talk.  Short answer is, ‘probably’. Might be a roundabout path to get you there though,” I said as I caught the eye of Kittrick, nodding that I was heading into a tiny office off of the larger conference center.   It had two chairs and a small desk, and nothing else. 

“Have a seat. Let’s talk,” I said.

Susan and the baby entered and sat in the larger, more comfortable chair behind the desk; Danny in the more utilitarian chair. I stood against the doorframe.

“OK, this is a little more private. To answer your questions about back home, well, they’re messed up of course, but we haven’t had a civil war raging about us full-time.  The S.A. is still there, or was when I left, using hit-and-run tactics, assassination, intimidation, and out-and-out terrorism.  I don’t know what the progress is of cleaning them out. I’d suspect that most of them are, or will be ambient temperature if they try anything overt.  Everyone of age is armed, and quite a few folks that aren’t of age, my kids included,” I said. “Boy or girl?”

“Little girl.  We rescued her,” Danny said.

“Oh. I’d assumed you were her parents.”

“No, well, we are now. The S.A. was going to kill her,” Susan replied, as she pulled a blanket away from the little girl.  The baby appeared healthy enough.

“Why in God’s name would they do that?”

“After the crash, classes were pretty much done. Susan worked as a volunteer at the University hospital. I was in food service,” Danny said.  “And God had nothing to do with it. The Statists identified her parents as subversives, and less than an hour later killed their whole family.  The parents were Susan’s professors in the teaching hospital before the War. Caitlyn here was their youngest.  They killed her older brother and sister as well. Examples to be made. They killed babies because of things their parents did. We need to leave this place, sir.”

“What did her parents do?” I asked, ever wanting to know more.

“We have no idea, Colonel. There was never a reason for anything they did.”

“All right. I’ll see what I can do about getting you out of here. We will have some evacuation abilities, by air and rail. Rail’s a bit tougher due to the cold, and we’re working on ways to keep standard rail cars warm enough during the trip back to civilization.”

“What’s it like, back home?” Susan asked. “I mean, really?”

I thought about it for a moment before answering. “A lot of work. Good though, I guess.  My family and I lived in a barn for a fair amount of time after the quake, just to stay alive. I didn’t want to evacuate south, and am glad I didn’t.  We farmed a bit, bartered for things, adapted,” I said. “Bellingham is a naval port now, because Bremerton’s down for the count.   The North Sound area—Everett was hit hard, all the way up to Vancouver—will recover far quicker than anything in the Seattle area.  The nature of the area has changed that much.  The floor of Puget Sound was lifted up in the quake—it’s much shallower, and there’s massive amounts of debris and ash filling it in every time it rains.” I didn’t say that he debris included human remains.

“The Governor’s a good man. My most recent ‘job’, if you can call it that, was the administrator for Spokane County. That put me in touch with most other counties in the state.  Republic’s still there, tough little town,” I said.  “Phone service was just starting to come back when I was drafted.  Electricity has been irregular at best.  Took us months to get even irregular power back, but that’s a long story. Once you get out of the war zone, it might be possible to forward the names of your relatives to their last known locations, and try to inform them of your status.  I’d caution you though, there really isn’t a single community out there that takes all that kindly to rootless refugees.  They’re viewed with suspicion or outright distrust, and have a tough time fitting in when those prejudices are heaped on them. Having ties to the community, even distant relatives, is crucial.”

They pondered that for a moment, and then I continued. “Where are you living?”

“Sub-basement. There’s a storage room that no one knows about,” Susan said, before turning her attention to Danny. “Danny, you need to tell him about the others.”  He nodded, and looked down toward the floor before meeting my eyes with his own.

“Colonel, there are three other couples and sixteen infants and toddlers.”

I was surprised, of course. “That’d be good to know,” I said.

“Sir, some had birth defects.  The S.A. kills children with birth defects.”

I supposed I should have known that, based on what I’d read previously, but I was still stunned by the reality of it. “We’ll get you out of here,” I said, feeling rage growing in me at the thought of what had been done here.  “Any more secrets?”

“No sir. We are though, short on food.”

“We’ll get you taken care of,” I said. “Stay right here for a few minutes.  I have some contacts to make,” I said, turning out of the room to get one of our secure radios.

“Red Leg Five to Red Leg Lead,” I said into the headset.

“Go, Five,” came the reply.

“I need to speak with Bulldog.”

“Understood, wait one.”  Bulldog was Gary Ryder, who was coordinating evacuation efforts for the critically ill or wounded.

“Bulldog, Go Five.”

“Bulldog, we need to confirm this, but I have two adults and one infant here at the U Hospital, who report that they have six adults caring for sixteen orphaned infants and toddlers, close by.  Can you break anyone loose and get them over here?”

“Does it sound legit, Five?”

“It does, but it needs to be double checked. There should be third party confirmation of this story from other witnesses. We’re not doing Delta One Three again.”

“Affirmative. We’ll dispatch to your location.”

“Send some food along as well. Five, out,” I said, and then picked up a pad of paper and a pen and headed back to the little office.

“OK.  I have some additional staff coming over. I need you to list the names of the children and the adults you have in your group, and the circumstances of each child and each adult.  We need to verify your story.”

“Colonel, is that really necessary?” Danny asked.

“Yeah. Required. We had a bad experience with people posing as folks desperate for evacuation, who were S.A. plants. Lost a plane two days ago. Sixty-five people dead, a hundred and six injured. We’re not taking chances, sorry.”

Fifteen minutes later, three Army investigators and three civilian aid workers arrived, and I directed them to our guests.  Within an hour, all of the children and caretaking adults had been moved to the meeting room, and the other hospital staff was questioned about the S.A. and the children.  The children’s murdered families were listed as best as possible, which was sketchy in some cases.  Food arrived, including a fair amount of kid friendly food.  I realized that these children had probably would never have some of the foods that we’d grown used to, in the old America.  None of the caretakers were older than Danny, who was twenty-three years of age.

“Colonel, we can’t find anything linking these people to the S.A., and we have verification on thirteen of the children,” Major Ryder said. “Helluva deal,” he said, looking at the kids, huddling with the adults in a corner. Both civilian and uniformed adults were holding some of the younger children.

“Yeah. Ain’t it though,” I said, still pondering the events that put these children in this room.

“We can get them out at sixteen-hundred, Colonel. Of course, that’ll mean with the clothes on their backs and precious little else.”

“I don’t think that’ll be that big of a deal. Airliner?”

“Yes, sir.  First stop will be DFW. Spend the night there, catch military transport to Salt Lake, then Walla Walla. Civilian network is looking to find relatives of the kids—which will be a nightmare—and try to find surviving family members of the adults.”

“Great job, Major. Maybe they’ll end up with a happy ending.”

“Maybe, Colonel.”

Later that afternoon, Danny, Susan and a parade of adults, some walking wounded and a few nurses carried the children aboard a 757.

They were on their way out of the War.

Supply Seventy-One was empty of the incoming load, and would travel west with an honor guard and more than three thousand fallen.

One, I learned while reading the manifest in a spare moment, was the son of Governor David Hall.  First Lieutenant Jake Hall was one of the last graduates of West Point, pre-War. The personnel file was classified, covering young Hall’s mission status in clinical detail.  He had achieved a field promotion, distinguishing himself by saving his unit from being overrun before an organized retreat could take place.  That particular fight was near Des Moines. He had been killed by a sniper, while moving between positions that his platoon held, near the Interstate Eighty Bridge over the Missouri.  The shot that killed him had come from behind him, an S.A. sniper in hiding, behind the lines. The sniper had not been found.
Before Seventy-One departed, I took a few minutes to write Governor Hall my condolences. No matter what words I used, I felt they failed to express my thoughts.  I placed the letter inside the file that would be sent to his parents, a non-classified file, blew my nose, and went to meet the next incoming train.

“Excuse me, Colonel. General Anderson has requested a meeting with you at eighteen-hundred,” Lieutenant Kittrick said. 

“Confirm that, thanks. Staff invited?”

“General Anderson requested a private meeting, sir. Over dinner.”

“Hmm. Thanks,” I said, wondering what Bob had to say next. I’d find out soon enough, the meeting was in a half hour.   I sat down at my desk, reviewed the status report and dispersion plan for Third Washington, and then the weather. The rain would change again to snow; the moderate temps again would change to bitter cold. By the time we would leave, four days or so out, we’d be in the heart of an arctic outbreak.

18:00 Hours
Charlie Six Conference Room

“General, good to see you again,” I said, shaking his hand.

“A little less formal, Rick. I have surprise for you from home. Karen asked that we bring you this,” he said as he signaled to one of his men at the doorway.  He brought in a large cardboard box, taped up with strapping tape.

“Seriously,” I said.

“I had a hand in getting you here, so it seemed fair enough,” Bob said. “Late Christmas present, or early New Years, your choice,” he said, dismissing the young man who brought in the package.

I cut open the top of the package and peeled away many layers of packing paper and plastic.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said, lifting out a quart jar of tomato soup, then another.

“She said you’d say something like that,” he said with a smile. “Soup?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Taste of home.  We should break one open,” I said.

“Your wife sent instructions. Dinner will be served shortly. I had to give them the specific instructions, but the galley car is working on it now. This batch,” he said, patting the box, “is for later.”

“General you know that I only eat what the men eat, right?”

“You’re ordered to make an exception.  And I’ve heard a lot about this soup via many channels, so I’m exercising command prerogative and joining you.”

I gave in. “Fine. I’ll take an order,” I said.

“And I’ve heard that you’re recovering from pneumonia. Probably acquired through a few too many nights checking on your men out in some far flung OP.  Correct?”

“Three nights in ten days, not consecutive, not much chance of anything bad happening. In other words, I was out there to, yes, check on the men, but keep them awake as well. Doc said that I’m susceptible to lung problems due to the scarring from the flu.”

“He’s right. You through your regimen yet?”

“Getting there. Halfway through.”

“Rick, you didn’t have any business running the kind of schedule you did today. I looked over your calendar. You need to ease off or you’ll end up ambient.”

“You sound like you have experience with this, Bob.”

“I wrapped up mine ten days ago, so affirmative. Hated every damned minute of it. And this is my second round,” he said as a knock on the door announced dinner, as a young man brought it in.  I didn’t really take note, as I was wondering how many more of us had the makings of a chronic or fatal disease.

“Cornbread, tomato soup, and what appear to be micro beers, sirs,” the young man said, snapping to attention, a moment before I recognized him.

“Private John Martin,” I said, finally buying a clue. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”

“Fresh out of Basic, Colonel. Assigned to Third Washington as a replacement, sir.”

I stood and shook his hand. “John do you know General Anderson?”

“We’ve met, Colonel,” John said as Bob started laughing.

“Happy New Year, Colonel Drummond. Between your wife and Private Martin’s family, I’ve had little peace concerning this man’s assignment.  My wife, it so happens, relocated to the Spokane Valley last month. It being a small town, word travels fast.”

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