Sunday, July 4, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 57


January Twelfth
Aboard Charlie Six
Van Meter, Iowa
23:30 Hours

I was an hour or so late for bed, wrestling with the present and the soon to be. The Soon To Be was winning.
Third Washington had been tasked with progressing immediately south and east of Des Moines, essentially sprinting across the state toward Burlington and the small town of Fort Madison. All surviving bridges across the Mississippi, from Dubuque to St. Louis, now numbered two.  One at Keokuk, Iowa, another at Sabula.  Every other bridge, whether it was rail, highway, or foot, had been destroyed.  If there were S.A. forces on the west side of the Mississippi, they were trapped.  If they could somehow get across, they would do so without mechanized units.
Third was supposed to ship east by oh six hundred, as is.  The sprint—a relative thing on a train—would be possible due to undamaged tracks between Van Meter and Fort Madison, with the track already checked for IED’s.  West of Burlington, Composite Group—composed of Army and Marine units---had fought a major battle with the S.A, before the Air Force destroyed the remaining bridge, cutting off the S.A. Twenty thousand enemy were trapped, fifteen thousand of them died fighting.  The remainder was wounded or surrendered, with a handful—perhaps a hundred—trying to escape across the Mississippi.  Third would stage near Fort Madison, southwest of Burlington, both had bridges targeted by Air Force precision munitions.  We were tasked with munitions and heavy equipment retrieval, moving from Fort Madison north.  Two trains back, behind a munitions train that would head north, would be a train comprised mostly of flatbed rail cars and mounted cranes.  Third would serve as the tow truck operators to retrieve damaged and destroyed U.S. tanks, and to work with explosives experts to safe up live shells and to permanently disable enemy tanks and heavy weapons.

“Most of the equipment will be down and stowed in an hour, sir. That which of course, we can take with us,” Captain Ben Farragut said. Farragut was part of our quartermaster crew.

“Thanks, Captain. Not much we can do about those shelter tents.  We probably have enough anyway. Besides, there’s always a supply train coming for us, right?” I said jokingly. Ben and I had had too many conversations about stretching our supplies. Simple math usually said otherwise. “What’s our supply status?”

“Ten days fuel, fifteen of food, with scant fresh goods. Medical is, well this is an average, about forty-seven percent of full-on. Water treatment capabilities are sixty one percent between the two trains; Dog is clearly in trouble there. Mechanics did manage to revive heat in a number of Dog’s abandoned crew cars, and they’re now on a par with Charlie.”

“That’s some good news for a change. Did they figure out how to keep them going?”

“Report said that some were more prone to basically vapor lock due to poor castings of the steam piping.  A couple were losing pressure due to cracks in the pressure system. Two had damage from small arms fire that had gone undetected.”

“Hmm,” I said. “All right then, get some shut eye when the gear’s stowed. Tomorrow will be a long-ass day.”

“Yes, sir,” he said as he stood and left the conference car.

“Private Houston, what’s the weather at our destination?” I hollered down the Command Car, rather than to try to check it myself.  Satellite data was quite sketchy. I dragged on my parka and cap.

“Last reports were at twenty one hundred, sir, thick fog and temperatures in the low thirties.”

“Thanks,” I hated fog, especially in this part of the country. It seemed colder and more penetrating.  “I’m turning in—See you boys in the morning,” I said as I left the car.

“Good night, Colonel,” one of the sentries outside the car said.

“Good night, Private.  Stay sharp—big day tomorrow.”

“Will do, sir.”

My quarters never looked quite as good as they did that night. I was dead tired, without the promise of enough sleep ahead.

January Thirteenth
Aboard Charlie Six
8:40 Hours

“Sir, we’re good to go on your command,” the rail engineer in Charlie’s lead engine said over the intercom.  “Dog Six as well, sir.”

“Roll out, Mister Edwards,” I said, a moment later feeling the train begin to move.

“Lieutenant Kittrick, I know this is early to ask, but when do you expect communications back on line?” I asked. We’d lost the uplink to both Command and Composite Group during the night from Charlie, but not from Dog.

“Not yet, sir.  We have a couple techs on it now.  We do have a hot link between Charlie and Dog though.  There’s a little delay in the data feed, but we are in touch…”

“More or less.”

“More or less, sir,” he said. “And Colonel? That short haul that came in had mail for you.  It’s there on your desk sir.” 

The ‘short haul’ was a rail tug that had hauled food for Van Meter and a little for Third.  ‘It would be nice to read one of Karen’s letters,’ I thought.  I looked at the envelope, only five days past.

My late breakfast today would be coffee, canned juice, and a ‘breakfast’ MRE, either an ‘apple maple rolled oat’ meal with hash browns and bacon, or a ‘sausage patty’ with hash browns and bacon. I chose the oat version, all else being equal.   The galley cars were going through major service while on the go, with the entire Brigade relegated to MRE’s for at least two meals.  Once we arrived in Fort Madison, the galley chief expected to be back up in full operation within an hour or so, with all of the deferred maintenance problems addressed during this run across Iowa.  The galleys had many of the same problems as the other crew cars, compounded by constant use and high demands.
We’d been delayed twice in rolling out of Van Meter by conflicting reports of track readiness down the line, and then further pleas by some of the disenfranchised refugees, demanding that we improve upon the well being of the refugees in general.  A few more instigators were found and separated, and I had a few more minutes with the Mayor before departure.  She’d hand picked a number of people for the new police force, and our Armory had provided Van Meter two dozen M-16’s, a like number of shotguns and M-9’s, and fifty thousand rounds of ammunition, total.

“Sir, if you’d care to pull up Secure One One on your monitor, you might see something interesting,” Kittrick said.

“What do we have?”  I asked as I flipped the monitor to life and punched in the correct security code.

“Real time mapping of Air Command operations sir, from an AWACS tracking action over St. Louis. Blue tracks are SAM’s.  No enemy aircraft.  Red are ours.”

“That data on the right is the number of SAM’s in the air? Good God,” I said.  It varied between fifty and two hundred at any given time.

“I believe so, sir.”

‘Unsustainable,’ I thought.  The two dozen Air Force aircraft in the vicinity—and some were drones—were nowhere near the blue shield of SAM’s fired at them.  I moved the cursor over one of the red aircraft designators and was able to pull up the aircraft type, call sign, and an acronym for weapons remaining on board.  Most were B-52’s from Minot, probably pounding S.A. emplacements with cruise missiles or GPS guided weapons. They orbited St. Louis at a comfortable distance, as the SAM’s, probably shoulder fired, tracked randomly and seldom came close.

A massive flare of something—donut shaped—spread over east St. Louis, eliminating many of the SAM’s in that area.

“What the Hell was that?” I asked.

“No idea, sir.”

“Can you patch in the AWACs frequency?”

“Sorry sir, we don’t have that ability at the moment.”

The ‘void’ created by the detonation, whatever it was, had to be more than a mile in diameter. Occasional tracks from SAM’s crossed the void, but nothing originated within it. 

January 8th

Dear Rick—
I hope this finds you safe and warm and well. We’ve seen three days in the thirties so far this year, so here’s hoping that this is a sign of things to come!
As I wrote earlier, we had a nice New Years celebration with Ashley and the twins and the Pauliano’s….but I have sad news---Joe passed away last evening in his sleep. I heard from Don a little while ago, and was already going to write.  There wasn’t anything particularly wrong, and he was in the best spirits I’ve seen him in years just last week. Don said that Joan is taking it well.  Carl and Kelly are both taking it hard—the Pauliano’s were like another set of grandparents of course.  We’re going to the funeral in an hour.  Joe will be buried not far from your parents.
There is other bad news, unfortunately. Two blocks south of our store, there was a house fire night before last, and a young family died, along with one of the firefighters from Station One. The fire inspector said that it was probably hidden damage to the chimney that started a fire in one of the walls.  The new medical examiner said that they probably died of smoke inhalation—the firefighter died when he entered the house and fell through the floor into the burning basement. All flags are at half-staff, and Libby and Mary and I will be helping at the memorial service next week.
We are doing OK, but missing you terribly….it is all we can do to keep up with the place and keep the status quo.  Tackling anything beyond that is almost out of the question. Ron and Alan seem to be feeling the same way.  The trading stores are doing well, and three new stores should open up by Spring, including one near Fort Overbeck, one near Fairchild, and one near Felts Field. Pacific Northwest Command said that the other stores in the area were trying to take advantage of the military, and we competed for a concession for all three—we won, but I didn’t want to tell you that just in case we lost—No harm no foul!  Mary and I will be putting together a staffing plan—and we’re going to employ as many of the Army spouses as we can.  I think you’d approve.  Most of these girls don’t have ANYTHING to make their homes with, and as you well know, the Army doesn’t pay much!
I had better run—it’s time to rouse our children and get them moving about their day, and it’s bread-making day!  It’s still not yet sunrise. Even the dogs are still sleeping.

All my love forever—

Someday, I hoped that all of her letters would catch up to me, to fill in the many blanks in between the letters that I did receive.   I’d miss old Joe—he was a good friend to anyone, no matter the age or race or condition, had a quiet wisdom and uncommon good sense.  Another good man, gone Home.

On the ground near Fort Madison, we would meet up with a company-sized Marine Recon unit and the remains of an Army artillery company, both north of Keokuk.  The artillery unit was a straggler, having seen numerous breakdowns in their equipment after being pounded by the S.A., and would cross the Mississippi when the last of their repairs were complete.  The Marines had seen heavy action and were trailing behind to gain some rest before going on point again with Composite Group. I noted in the report, that they’d lost forty-seven percent of their officers and just under sixty percent of their line soldiers since hostilities began. I also noted that their field commander was not happy that they were pulled from the line, even for a few days. ‘Not happy’ being a relative thing, I read his non-redacted communiqué to command, filled with creative uses of expletives when describing those that ordered Recon Twelve to stand down.
It would take around four hours to make the hundred and seventy-five miles to Fort Madison.  Battalion commanders had given the orders to have all weapons cleaned during the trip, and other than the defensive cars, everyone stood down to get some sleep.  We’d have a lot of work to do once we arrived.  Someone in the rear communications car had improvised a connection from several iPods to the internal communications channels, similar to the commercial airliners before the war.  Four channels of playlists were on rotation, none of which I cared for. 
Outside the train, despite our lack of windows, our external cameras showed us the towns of Monroe, Pella, and Oskaloosa, civilians wandering about the streets, some running toward the trains that wouldn’t stop, a few uniformed soldiers to keep them back. The towns looked in better shape than most we’d seen. Karen had a cousin that lived in Pella years back. I remembered the neat-as-a-pin town square, the many Dutch influences on the town, the incredible food we ate there.  Was it twenty years ago already?

I spent a little time reading some of the readiness reports on the Air Force, as imagined by the S.A., captured and decrypted by one of the Composite’s intel algorithms out of thin air. Most of the report was blather, perhaps correctly interpreting only one thing, the effect off massed surface to air missiles on deflecting close air support missions. 
Another report intercept seemed to be more grounded in reality, talking in frank terms about the S.A.’s inability to meet the nutritional needs of their population, beginning as soon as the coming June. The report, prepared by someone who almost seemed to know what they were talking about, stated that without dramatic changes in the ability to import food from the West (meaning, the United States) and from other ‘non-affected areas’, large scale starvation would come to the majority of the S.A. states. Resources within the S.A. were not directed toward food production, but toward seizure of manufacturing abilities and storage of technology with the ‘hope of advancing the State through technological breakthroughs unforeseen by the United States.’  The notation at the bottom of the intercept said that the report was written in late November, and that the report had been heavily redacted before being completely deleted from official record.  Unofficial versions had surfaced outside of official channels, and a new version created for public distribution. It was wholly different than the honest attempt to wake up the S.A. leadership.  It was two weeks newer than the original report.

“…acquisitions of basic food stuffs and expansion of State regulated farms and dairies continue throughout the mid-West, with further expansion plans in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys…”

This, as they were beginning the collapse and as U.S. offensives were stripping them of these lands. By the time the report was written, it would have already been too late to do anything meaningful regarding farming, planting and livestock production.  Non-farmers just imagine that beef and grain and poultry can be made available on command.  Farmers know differently of course.  Farming and livestock production is a combination of luck, skill, weather, and Providence.

I could not fathom the disconnect between the reality of the S.A. soldier on the ground, fighting the United States military, and those that would look at verifiable facts, and re-write them for their superiors, rather than to upset their superiors. Rather than disturb the planned Utopia under State Rule.
The painful lesson that would be learned again, would first hit the civilian population within the diminished State of America. Last of course, it would hit the leadership.  I was certain that the leaders were not starving, had everything they could desire in terms of material goods and physical pleasure, and that this would remain so as long as they desired it so, simply because they desired it, and that those around them benefited from the culture of fear that substituted for leadership. I was also sure that the leaders of the S.A. had never studied history.

Those that are most wrong, are also those that hold onto their wrong beliefs, until the very end. Pride is a difficult thing to swallow, and freedom an impossibility to control, for those that choose to be free. 

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