Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Next Book

I have two story outlines developed, one that had been rumbling around for quite some time in the dark and scary recesses of my mind; the other as a result of input from several readers of the blog and many emails.  I will be working on three things starting in August 2010, including: 

- Items one and two: fine tuning and a little polish on Deep Winter and Shatter.  There are some things within the book, style wise, that I'd like to tweak.  Nothing earth shattering in changing the 'canon' of the Deep Winter universe.   As a hack amateur writer, Deep Winter was the first piece of fiction I'd written since my frosh year at college, just after the last ice age when the world was still more or less sane.  
- Developing two outlines for the new stories, the first alluded to in the last chapter of Remnant, called 'Frontier'.  Frontier is post-War, and includes characters familiar to all, but the world is certainly different.   The second, called 'Distance', is a story concurrent with the timelines of Deep Winter and Shatter, as lived from within the S.A. 

My original thought was that this would be another story of someone being relatively prepared, and how they deal with the things going on around them.....I've cast it in a different light though, which should make an interesting contrast.  Right now, I'm more interested in 'Distance', because it sounds like much more fun to write....

Take care, gang.  It's getting to be downright sporty out there these days. 

Tom S. 

Going to Print.

I've just placed the order for the last in a series of three proofs of the print version of Remnant.  If it looks good to go this time, it will go to both retail sites (including the print house, and Amazon, etc.) within the next couple of weeks.  Each of the previous versions, I've found some format problem and have had to redo the proof. Or the cover didn't look right. Or, the author just is hard to please.

If (and I hope I have the bugs out of it this time) these proofs are good as-is, I'll place a bulk order from Lulu and sell them directly.  It looks like the price to me is a little bit more than the previous two books (it's also a little longer, so maybe that's the driver), but I'll probably stick with the $30 book-and-autograph-and-ship price.

So, I should have my review copies in hand within the next week.  We'll post updates on that as I plow through the book for the zillionth time.

There's also a nice little tease on the back cover, that will remain only on the back cover (Dang I'm a tease.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What's Next?

“What’s Next?”  I’ve heard this week.  In fact, I’ve heard a LOT of that this week.

Well, I’ve been pondering that for quite a while now, with various things coming to the surface over the five years that I have been putting the Drummond clan through various trials and tribulations.

I’m wondering though, where you would like to see things go next.  Here, in July 2010, there are many more resources available on the ‘net than there were five years ago, many of them excellent, some not.   Various preparedness sites have extensive libraries and reference sections that are vast wealths of information.  Download liberally if you are allowed to…pesky copyrights being in place and all.

When I first started Deep Winter, it was intended to be the what became the first chapter of the book, and that’s it. It was a counter for people who’d been stating they were prepared for anything, that there was no surprise that they weren’t ready for.

So I picked what in my world would have been one of the worst case scenarios that has a plausible survivability to it: A Great Quake in the depths of winter cold.  That ‘story’ was intended to get people to think about what would happen to their own families should they find themselves tossed out of bed in the middle of the night.

For me, it kickstarted my thinking and preparedness work.  Everyone thought that this was a story. For me, it was a learning (and eventually a teaching) process.  When Rick was putting his slow sand filter together, I was learning about it as well, as I had it on my list of things to do, but hadn’t done it at that point. When I looked in detail about how much food we had on hand, versus the number of meals it actually takes (and the caloric intake) to thrive (not just survive) under adverse conditions (like lots of manual labor) it was an eye opener.

Ditto on the stuff I needed to have on hand for equipment maintenance. How often do you need to change oil in your generator? What kind does it take? Do you have spare plugs? A carb kit? Can you make gaskets? Do you have hour meters on your small engines and maintain them frequently?  I learned a lot there, too. As much about having the stuff on hand as….finding it when you need it, which is a real problem around here. 

One other aspect (perhaps the most important one for me) is that writing this story deepened my faith in God and made stronger my belief in Christ. Salvation is the first and most important prep.  Without that, well, everything else is sort of pointless.

Some of the ideas that have come up from readers include posts of several of the recipes referenced in the stories and others that were alluded to; someone wanted a play list of the music referred to (do-able by listing the songs, but not by having them available for download); the ‘primitive skills’ info referred to several times in each book, etc.

So, there’s a ‘poll’ added to the blog on this topic.  If you don’t see anything that appeals to you, shoot me an email at, and we’ll see what we can do. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 60


Battle of Fort Madison Plain
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

The farmhouse was modest, nicely restored and well-kept, and it was nice to have some time alone with my thoughts.  In the many years since the S.A. army was defeated, I’d had the chance to travel to much of the nation, but not once had I visited this part of Iowa.  The weather was not unlike that January day. With misplaced concentration, it would not be hard to find myself back on the battlefield.  I was pleased to see the old Federal-style house restored.
My security men knocked on the front door, which I then answered, not quite dressed for the commemoration.  I still had an hour until I was expected outside.  I was not unwilling, at seventy-one years, to go outdoors in twenty-degree weather despite the risk.

“Sir?  Mr. McKenna is here for his interview,” Tim Crawford said. 

“Thanks, Tim. Please show him in. I’ll meet him in the living room.  Ought to make myself more presentable.”

“Sir.” Tim replied as I headed back into the guestroom to get my tie and dress jacket.  A few minutes later, I joined the Sun-Register reporter. He stood as I entered the room.

“Please, sit,” I said. “No need for the formalities, Mr. McKenna.”

“Thank you, sir, for your time.  This is a rare opportunity.”

“What’s your first name, son?” I said.  I had the right to call him that, I thought. He looked like he was maybe two years out of Iowa State.

“Jefferson, sir.”

“Good name. May I call you Jeff?”

“Absolutely, sir,” he said, relaxing five or six levels.

“Good. Call me Rick.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Good. Now, fire away.”

“Yes, sir….I have a number of questions obviously, but I’d really like to hear what your thoughts are on the single, biggest change in the Federal government, pre-War and post.”

“Good way to dive right in,” I said with a chuckle. “I’m not sure that I can come up with a single biggest change, because there were so many, and the accrued Reconstruction efforts caused a fundamental reset of the Constitution, through several channels.  In short, we are closer to living within the Constitution of a hundred and seventy-five years ago. There are some changes though, that I think will help the durability and resiliency of the Republic far more than anyone gives credit.”

“What would those be, sir?”

“The elected leadership being term-limited under the Twenty Eighth Amendment, which also eliminates the potential for any influence of any elected Federal official by any enterprise, public or private, under penalty of law,” I said, sounding more like my professor-lecturer self than I might want. “Of course, it also eliminates the ability of ‘congressional staffers’ to be employed for more than eight years total.  Those unelected staffers wielded far too much power and were accountable to no one, way back when.”

“Before you were born, Jeff, Hell, before I was born, Representatives and Senators, and probably Presidents as well, were bought and paid for.  Republicans on one side of the aisle, Democrats on the other, not like today, where they are seated by state, regardless, and formal party affiliation is all but illegal. Industries, agencies, non-governmental organizations, individuals…if they had the money, they could find a way to buy what they wanted, either through direct influence or party affiliation.  Under the table at first, with winks and sly grins and with what they used to call ‘pork barrel’ projects, where one elected would pass a law that benefited another elected, in exchange for the similar favor.  Judges legislating from the bench, using their power to subvert the Constitution, the legislature, and the will of the people. By the time the War started, it was in the open, The corruption was complete, and the greed unabated….along with the grab for power.  The staffers wrote the legislation, most of the time without having the Congressmen read it. Multi-national corporations operated outside the bounds of both morality and law. They corrupted foreign governments, positioned our own to defend their business interests at the cost of the lives of our men and women and civilians.  Once the lines were so completely blurred, once ethics were completely and openly ignored, the socialisti could easily game the political system. These days, you try to influence a Federal official, or most State officials, and you’re doing hard labor for ten years minimum.  Downside of that, is that some Senators and Representatives feel they all but walk on water, but their paycheck is meager, by design.  That Senator from New York, can’t remember his name, proposed that Congress be outfitted with Robes of State or some such nonsense. ‘Designed to be appropriate to the high office and dignity required,’ I recall his motion. At the time I made an offhanded remark that the last thing we needed were more priests of the law. The Congress is set apart. It is set, not above, but to serve the citizenry.  We also have strict Constitutionalists serving on the Supreme Court….must not underestimate that.”

“We studied the origins of the Reconstruction Amendments pretty thoroughly of course, but it’s different hearing the personal experience,” he said, directing his comments toward the small media recorder on the coffee table.

“I wasn’t always an elected official. Matter of fact, I tried pretty hard not to be. Back before the War I was in private enterprise, making money, enjoying life.  Like everyone else, I was increasingly pissed off about what they were doing to our civil rights, and frustrated that what The People really wanted was not only ignored, but ridiculed by the people we elected! The life you live today simply cannot be compared fairly, unless you really know how bad it was before the end.”

“I suppose not, sir.”

“There are plenty of resources of course, us fossils and everything you find on Verimedia.  But as usual, I digress.”

“Government growth,” Jeff said, referring to another amendment.

“The stripping away of the ability of the Federal leadership to grow as a malignancy, consuming everything around it. It can’t do that, by Constitutional amendment, because the Federal Government, excluding the armed forces of course, can no longer grow beyond the average of the most populous states’ selected employee count.  The Federal employees, to put it simply, cannot, by Amendment, ever outnumber the selected public employees of the largest state, let alone all states combined. Do you know how much of a difference that really is, numerically or by percentage?”

“I’m…afraid not sir.”

“Pre-War, there were two and a half MILLION Federal employees and a massive dependency infrastructure that kept almost twenty percent of Americans dependent on the Federal Government. Hundreds of thousands of departments, many administrations, bureaus, and Cabinet level directorship of areas never intended or dreamed of under Federal control by the Founding Fathers. Now, there are less than a hundred and fifty-thousand employees. Total.  The more they could grow, the more they did grow. The Federal Government created dependency systems that ignored Constitutional limitations.  Research the concept of Federal Social Security—you’ll see what I mean.    The States are in much more control of the Nation than they ever were twenty-eight or fifty and probably a hundred years ago.  States Rights under the Tenth Amendment were fully restored and ensured, I believe, with the passage of the Twenty-Ninth Amendment. Arguably one of the largest and most dramatic changes ever put in place in the history of the United States.”

“Your idea, it’s been rumored.”

“Nope.  But I was in the room,” I said flatly.  “Seriously. I’m not the author of that thought. Senator Garcia’s through and through. Wish it’d been my idea.” 

“The Frontier Years,” Jeff asked.

“The Rebuild, some called it. Others called it the Giant Cluster,” I said with a little smile, omitting some colorful language from the label.

“I’d heard that from my Dad,” he said.  “He was a laborer out West.”

“Rough work. Wildly underappreciated,” I said.  “I’m not sure who coined the term, first of all. Wasn’t any of us.  The tasks we were initially faced with were just so staggering in scale, it was hard to understand it all. Part of it was the mental adjustment of a much smaller population.  We lost so many—more than a hundred million Americans alone.  What was left, that which wasn’t destroyed in the War, well, we had more ‘built’ for a lifestyle that no longer worked. It couldn’t be maintained. It started with that. Understanding how many people we had, what kind of country we wanted to live in, and move on from there.  There were parts of the Midwest that were without utilities for years, thanks to the S.A. and their EMP’s and their outright destruction. Entire counties were abandoned, and not really repopulated at rates anywhere near what they were pre-War. Twenty years of reconstruction in New Seattle alone, and we’re not close to being back to what it was.   Roads gone to pot, bridges washed out or collapsed….stuff wasn’t built to last in the first place, it was built to have a short lifespan and get built again…roads in particular, but major public buildings and homes as well.  The time and effort to restore what was there before the War just didn’t make sense.”

“The controversy about property ownership still goes on,” Jeff stated.

“It does. It will for eternity, nothing we can do about that. Almost impossible to track down the rightful heirs on property all over the nation that was abandoned, of course, with many of the old records destroyed.  That which was abandoned, was reclaimed by the respective states and in most cases homesteaded.   No one expected the outright indignation from the agro-chemical industry at the reversion of all those mono-culture super-farms back to the states, and the threats and lawsuits and such.  The land was sitting. No fuel and not enough equipment to farm. Damned few farmers. The nation needed food. The fact that Iowa decided to be the first to break up the Ag monopolies was the floodgate that allowed reasonable-sized, highly diverse farming to be reintroduced to the United States. An unpopular Supreme Court decision from the viewpoint of corporate America. Again, an underappreciated event in the course of modern history.”

“I’d like to come back to the corporations in a moment, but first, sizeable amounts of land were never put back into productive use.  Do you see in the future, another Settler expansion into those areas?”  he asked, referring to the land-lottery that took place seven years after the War ended.

“Sure, if it makes sense.  There is a fair amount of land in this country though, that had no business coming under the plow.  Once upon a time, during the early days of the Frontier work, I was accused of being an ‘environmentalist’, which I found a little insulting.  That my primary goal was to keep Man off of the land and that it would revert to Nature. I couldn’t be farther from it actually.  I’m a conservationist first….the appropriate use of the land and water for productive use, and the preservation of that which, by adverse use, would cause the land to be damaged, destroyed, or cause the destruction of other lands. My definition, not one you’ll find in a dictionary.”

“Some say, sir, that the farming and resettlement policies are overly restrictive.”

“Subjective view, either way. Like I said, plowing up all the land on either side of a river, leaving no buffer to protect water quality, then spraying fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides on the genetically modified crops is no way to do anything except create runoff filled with mud, chemicals and nutrients that don’t belong in rivers. I like to fish in water that’s not full of some stuff that’s going to kill me.  It’s not too much to ask to have people use common sense when it comes to working the land,” I said. “GM crops were a disaster to the ecology of the planet. Unfortunately there’s no going back now that they’re out there.  The terminator stuff in particular, spreading to other varieties, cross breeding, and then self-eliminating,” I said. “We lost wheat as an entire species. All that is left are the genetically modified remains. The grain is different now. That shouldn’t be forgotten.”

“When it comes to resettlement policies, they are much more restrictive than pre-War settlement patterns. Main reason is that no one ought to be building in a floodplain, or in some other naturally-inclined hazard area that will endanger the structure, its owners, or the land, or other people. The fact that ‘no one ought to’ translated, in the old days, into, ‘We got flooded out. Pay me to build a new building in the same spot.’  That stuff doesn’t make sense—so it’s not allowed to happen, most of the time.  Some States allow it, most don’t.  No one provides insurance against stupid decisions, though.  Same reason that out here, where tornadoes happen, that new buildings are engineered to handle them, more or less.  The money’s already being spent, once. Build to last and build smart.”

“OK. You mentioned Corporate America.  Can you shed a little light on your view of the new corporate limitations?”

“Well, not new anymore. If it’s an American corporation, it’s based here. It produces here, it is taxed here, it ships from here, and the money it makes its’ shareholders stays here. It hires Americans and documented aliens here. If they’re an international corporation and they want to do business here, they form an American corporation and follow the rules of an American corporation. If an American corporation wants to work off shore, they do it as a subsidiary corporation, working under the laws of the respective nation, but by American law the subsidiary can never be larger than the parent corporation.  And it never pays more than ten percent corporate tax, ever.  The Byzantine tax codes of old allowed…no, encouraged, the domestic corporation to have most of its’ production off-shore, didn’t pay taxes on it, much if not most of the time, essentially, practices like that destroyed American heavy industry and crushed innovation and drove intellectual capital away. The re-writing of the rules for corporate behavior included all of that and much more of course. I think the preceding are the most important points, because they’ve caused the flood of industrial innovation and business that we’ve seen over the past eight years. For the creation of this system, we were called fascists. I advised a certain young Senator to revisit the definition and get back to me, after I told him to shove it,” I said. “That Senator was also advised to review what happened to the vast majority of Pre-War Congressmen, because he was heading down the same road they did.  Most of them were strung up or shot.  The Liberty Tree at the Capitol Reflecting Pool is a real place. Tyrants swung from it. I was there.”

“The creation of National Sales Taxation.”

“You have no idea how good you have it these days, Jeff.  You buy a new item, you pay NST on it. You buy a used item, you don’t. You trade for something, you don’t pay taxes on the trade. You don’t pay tax on what you make. You don’t pay property taxes in the same manner that we once did. You don’t pay taxes on earned investments, because you’ll pay taxes when you buy something with the earned investments.  You don’t pay the Federal government, the state you live in does, based on purchases. You don’t pay taxes when you buy gold or silver, because those are a form of currency. The Tax Reformation Act was as much about simplifying the tax structure for the taxpayer as it was about limiting the amount of money that the Federal Government can lay hands on,” I said with particular emphasis. 

“We, ahem, unemployed a lot of accountants and tax attorneys.  We created a fifteen percent national sales tax, and are using no more than ten in the operations of the Federal Government, and a hunk of that goes towards reserves.   Property taxes of course are set by the local jurisdictions and the States.  The excess taxation collected by the Federal Government, up until a couple of years ago, was a strictly guarded secret of course, but that cat’s out of the bag.”

“Debt payback,” McKenna said. 

“Absolutely.  It will take time to pay back those nations that invested in the United States, that which the former government repudiated.  There is relative peace in a lot of the world today, and trade is prosperous in the U.S., because we are making good on debts incurred, despite all of the troubles over the decades.  With the money we pay back, they rebuild, they invest, in their own nations and sometimes in ours. Without the confidence of other nations in the ability and the dedication of a nation to honor its’ obligations, there can be no basis for international trade, or alliances, or even basic relationships.  There is trust now, where there was none.”

“Pax Americana,” the young journalist asked, finally getting to the meat of things.

“A wonderful notion. The fact that the United States of America has grown up and avoids foreign entanglements is at least as important as the Dis’sembler.”  I noted his shock has he started back in his chair, mouth dropping open a little.

“I’m surprised, sir, that you brought that up.”

“Worst kept secret since Jimmy Carter told the evening TV viewers and our enemies all about the Stealth Fighter.  Why not talk about it? The fear of the thing is at least as effective as the impact of its employment. Besides that, it’s allowed the United States military to be sized appropriately, namely for the protection of Americans abroad, commercial trade, and our continental interests.  Pax Americana means something radically different now, than it meant when I was your age.  It didn’t work under the old meaning. It seems to, now. We don’t pick fights, no one picks fights with us.  We don’t go pulling someone’s privates out of the fire or try to ‘build nations’ anymore.”

“Would you mind me asking about the DisAssembler?  I have…”

“I opened the door. Your notes and this recording will be cleared of course prior to any distribution, per the Witness Agreement.”

“Absolutely, sir.”

The Witness Agreement, adopted not long after the defeat of the S.A., required anyone serving in the journalism racket to report honestly, equally, and fairly, as verified by the electronic Verimedia Witness and a disinterested observer, through the electronic images and audio being collected.  There was no such thing as a biased reporter any longer, which released the journalist to the creative efforts of telling the truth in a compelling manner.   In my case the Witness Agreement would also have a Federal review, in case some confidential information, perhaps better-kept than the M-DisAssembler, came out.

“It’s been eleven years since Station Liberty was established, and twelve since near-space was cleared.  For years it’s been rumored that the Dis’sembler made that possible,” Jeff stated, “but no one talks about the Dis’sembler in any detail.”

“Come February, the Freedom of Information Act will likely confirm that for everyone.  Twelve years, since Liberty went up. FOIA covers all that, including the MDA.”

“But use against earthbound targets, instead of its intended mission….” He said, afraid to continue.

“My idea. Yeah.”

“Sir, I have to ask this. Do you not have a difficult time reconciling the use of such a device…” he asked, before I cut him off.

“Weapon, son. Call it what it is.”

“OK, sir. The use of such a weapon against targets on Earth?”

“Nope.  Hard-hearted bastard that I am, no.  The Molecular Dis-Assembler was created to effectively and safely clear near-Earth space of orbiting nuclear weapons parked there before the War.  The impact of that Soviet weapons cluster splattered all over the Urals was ample demonstration that the device’s deployment couldn’t wait, and that was three years after the International Space Station de-orbited, dead crew and all, scattering their remains and the station itself over five thousand miles of burn-in.   Further, it was impossible for the United States, or any other nation, to ensure the successful orbit of any satellite due to the space debris and remaining orbiting weapons.  The Dis’sembler eliminated the debris over a six- month period.   Without it, safe space travel would have been impossible for generations. Maybe forever. No Space Station Liberty. No bases on the Moon. No manned missions to Mars.”

“OK, I understand, but, you haven’t fully answered my question, sir.”

“No I have not,” I said as I stood, and looked out the window. “Jeff, you’re twenty-something years old.  Not far from here, I had three thousand men and change under my command, and we defeated a far superior force with a weapon that was much more cruel and crude in implementation.  On my order, twenty-four tanks burned to death eighty six thousand four hundred and twelve State of America soldiers and conscripts within minutes. Burned them alive. In some cases it appeared, burned them in half, searing their wounds, keeping them alive a few minutes longer until another pass made sure they were dead. They never saw the weapon that killed them. They didn’t know where to run, because they were enclosed in a pattern that had no escape. Their ammunition and fuel exploded in the heat, the truck tires exploded around them. Their plastic rifle stocks, and then the metal barrels and receivers melted into their flesh. After that, we were called the Sunburn Brigade, not Third Washington Engineers. I cannot imagine the minutes of Hell those men were subjected to.  Do you have any idea of the smell of such an event? Of the cost of the event in terms of human destruction?”

“No sir.”

“No, you don’t, Jeff, and I hope you never have to see something like that,” I said with a shaking voice.  I’d noted that as I aged, I could not hold back the emotions of events such as this. It broke me up, perhaps proving to me, that I was still human on occasion.  “Although, I hope to God the Creator that no one ever forgets what was done here, or in any of the towns destroyed so that an almighty State could exist anywhere on this earth.  Millions died so that the powerful could stay powerful,” I said, taking a drink of coffee before continuing. “And yes, I’d do it all over again if need be. We killed the S.A. that day, but it took two and a half more years for the killing to stop.”   I noticed out the window, another car coming in the distance.

“The DisAssembler has been used to eliminate targets that posed a direct, immediate, credible threat to the United States of America, and her territories.  That might mean an individual. It might mean a pirate ship. Might mean an inbound aircraft carrying something or someone bent on our destruction that the military cannot address as quickly and effectively through conventional means.  Could we have helped England against Argentina? Sure, we could have. We could have stopped the Chinese from taking all of Central Africa. Could we take the Caliphate out of Europe? Sure, and right-quick.  Are we going to? No.  Bailed Europe out twice, got screwed for it in the end, and got the bill to boot. We’ll never see those cathedrals of Europe rebuilt. Notre Dame, a pile of rock. Hundreds of others, blown up by the Caliphate.  Pretty good chance you’ll not hear any more detail than that. You will not hear it from me.  I will say though, that had I had such a weapon available here, I’d have used it, for the sake of those we killed as well as those of us who buried the dead. I would have much preferred to see the barren earth with the fine coating of the molecules of vaporized men and their weapons, than horror of hundreds of acres of seared flesh and mounds of unexploded ordnance.”

“Let’s change the subject, if you don’t mind.”

“No, I welcome it, Mr. McKenna.”

“How’s your health been?”

“Pretty good for an old fart,” I said, relieved for the subject change. “Seriously, not too bad.  Heart meds, arthritis, knee rebuild. Hearing gone to Hell.  All the joys of being over seventy.”

“You’ve been hospitalized a number of times this past year,” he pressed further.

“Yep.  Pneumonia, double pneumonia, and walking pneumonia. Did you hear I had pneumonia?” I said with a smile. “All three bouts are the result of the Guangdong flu and lung scarring from back then. Doc said it’ll kill me if I’m not careful. My wife ensures that I am more careful than a male of my age might want to be. I don’t feel my age most days.”

“Your retirement.”

“Enjoying it immensely,” I said. “Karen and I have been doing our best to spoil the grandchildren as our primary occupation. Some time in New Seattle, but mostly in the home area, few weeks at the lake each year. Occasional trip to San Francisco to see our niece and nephew and their families. Lecture a little now and then at the University, where I think they tolerate me. Give a sermon once or twice a year at the home church, where they also tolerate me.” 

“From what I hear sir, there is standing room only.”

“That’s overly generous, I’m sure. Bad nights for sports or media. I think my secretary makes sure of that before she schedules anything. And I make it a point to give a sermon at Christmas or Easter, when they pack ‘em in anyway, if I am indulged, of course.”

“Ever think of going back into public service, sir?”

“I’m in public service every day, Jeff. I just don’t get paid for it.”

“You and your predecessors have refused to serve but a single term.”

“Absolutely. Get out while you can and get on with life before government sucks it out of you. If you ever get elected, you’ll understand what I mean,” I said as I heard the door open.  Jeff, being a very-well mannered young man, stood immediately.

“Ma’am, I’m Jeff McKenna. I’m a reporter with the Chicago Sun-Register. Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Drummond,” he said. Karen was looking her beaming self, silver-blond hair tucked under her fur hat.

“Thank you, Jeff. You as well.  My husband spinning yarns and talking farming?”

“No, Ma’am.  I’m afraid I’ve been steering him in other directions.”

“The unseemly and disreputable, then. Politics, if I’m not mistaken, right?” she said, taking my hand.

“’Not to be spoken of in polite company,’ I believe my grandfather once said,” Jeff replied.

“Wise man. You should take his advice,” I said.

“Hon, you ready?” Karen asked. “The kids will be here any minute.”

“I thought they’d have had enough of my speechifying.”

“Nonsense. This is important.”

“It is, just trying to maintain a sense of balance. This place can be overwhelming,” I said. I could feel it, they were almost tangible, the memories.

“Jeff, care to join us?” Karen asked.

“I’d be honored, ma’am.”

“Nonsense. Can’t have you walking all the way over to the memorial.  It’s a mile off and it’s snowing,” she said.

 I grabbed my overcoat and hat, necessary but not liked, and we made our way out to the hybrid Lincoln.  A few silent minutes later, we were on the dais, Karen holding little Charlie on her lap, bundled up against the cold. I was joined by a dozen of my men from Third Washington, and hundreds more in the audience.

Introductions followed, and brief remarks by Christine Schimanski, the senior Iowa Senator, and Chief Justice James Carlton.  Jim served with Mike’s ‘A’ Company Rangers. Chris Schimanski’s mother-in-law had been Clara DeJong.  Clara had passed on not long after Chris and Clara’s son Jakob were married.  I had the privilege of reading Scripture at her funeral.  Like many I’d known, we lost her too soon. 

I was next…I heard, but didn’t listen to my own introduction. As always, I spoke without notes.

“Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to the dedication of this memorial. It is not without powerful emotions that I stand before you here today, even surrounded by family, friends, and those that put up with me as their commander,” I said, looking over my shoulder to a few smiles.
 “It has been my honor to serve the citizens of the United States of America in one fashion or another, for more than twenty-five years, of those, four years and six days in uniform.  Twenty-five years ago this morning, three thousand men under my command defeated a much larger force on this field of battle, now remembered properly as hallowed ground.  On my order, eighty six thousand four hundred and twelve Americans died here.  Those men, and others like them were responsible for the deaths of more than two hundred thousand fellow Americans across the Midwest, and untold damage on those they left alive.”
“Third Washington, Recon Twelve of the Fifth Marine Expeditionary Task Force, a handful of SEALS and regular Army soldiers participated in this action. I would like to speak of this, in terms that may not have been explored over time.”
“On that early morning, we stood wildly outnumbered in every respect. The decisions made by the State of America commanding general saved Third Washington at the cost of his own life and the lives of his entire command. They could have easily swarmed up that hill,” I said, pointing behind me, “and killed us all. They could have moved south, and destroyed the five pieces of artillery were still operational. Five. They could have moved north, beyond the Memorial Grove there, and wiped out everyone else. They didn’t because they were not fighting for a nation, they were fighting for men. Others would dispute me here, but there are few precious few men that are worth fighting for,” I said, pausing for effect.  “The decision of the State of America commander changed both the course of the war and the face of the United States of America, forever.”
“There are ideals embodied in a nation such as ours that are worth fighting for, even at my advanced state of decay,” I said, getting a few quiet laughs. “Those of us with six or seven decades behind us and less than one or two ahead, should fully realize the sense it makes to have the older generation fight, and not the younger. These young,” I said, waving to my children and grandchildren, “are the future of this nation. I pray to God that the examples we have given them will provide ample education on how over time we can destroy a nation, and that the leaders of the several States are wise enough to not throw our future before cannons.”
“The losses of these men—husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles—touches every single citizen of the United States. Virtually everyone knows people that served in the S.A. army or was killed by them. The bitterness of this civil war will burn for decades. There was no North versus South in this war. There was though, in the most honest sense of the words, good versus evil. For a few precious decades we may enjoy this respite from evil, although it reigns in many other nations around the globe. It will return to this continent, I have little doubt. For a few precious years, we are at peace.  For these years, we will treasure our time with our children, working and playing and learning and teaching them to not repeat our mistakes.”
“What we lost here though, should not be forgotten to history, we must mourn it as we mourn the losses in our own families.  We lost the creative energy and the momentum of a generation. We lost doctors, lawyers, teachers, writers, scientists, researchers, builders, painters, playwrights, and the products of their lives. We owe it to these men, however we view the guidance of their leadership, to remember what they could have given this nation, and what we have lost as a nation as a result of their deaths.”
“For a few minutes, before we traveled here to this dedication, I had the honor of spending some time with a young reporter.  He asked me a number of good questions, and I answered without much in the way of forethought, but I answered honestly.  There is one thing though that occurs to me, that should be an addenda to the answers I gave. Jefferson McKenna down there,” I said, pointing to the second row and embarrassing him somewhat, “asked me about the single biggest change in the Federal government pre-and post-Second Civil War.  Jeff I suspect will have my answers sketched out in the evening Register. What he didn’t ask, but what I would like to add as an answer, are the biggest changes to America pre-and post-war,” I said, a gust of fresh January air catching me a bit by surprise.
“This is a nation of laws.  It is a nation that again can be viewed with virtues. Its people have a right to be proud. We once again are the goal for millions around the world, the shining beacon of freedom…not just this land, but the very idea that is our nation. Our children study our history, our Constitution, the causes of our collapse, the progress of reconstruction. We have people who can think, which I’d like to add as an aside, Clara DeJong, Senator Schimanski’s late mother in law, would be most proud—she taught critical thinking to homeschoolers long before it was stylish to think for ones’ self,” I said, getting a few more laughs.
“We have returned to a sound monetary system, and are paying those that invested in our former form, regardless of whether they view us an enemy or a friend….the United States is indebted to those nations, we will fulfill our obligations. We again have our own industry, we are self-reliant, we have morality-based self-determination. We are Citizens of the Several States first and we are citizens of a larger nation. While my heart breaks for what we have lost here on this battlefield and on dozens more, my spirit soars at the prospects for the future of this country.”
Applause, building slowly, and the crowd began to rise, and to continue their applause, before I held up my hand to hush them.

“I stand here today, broken from what happened here under my command.  I pray to God that no other American commander, anywhere, ever has to face the decisions we did that night. Thank you, and good day,” I said, backing away from the lectern, turning toward the huge flag, rising from half mast to full display, as those on the dais stood as well, also turning toward the flag.  I came to attention and salute as bagpipes played Amazing Grace, followed by twin trumpets playing Taps, the horns in soft echo.

The applause rose again as the notes faded, Karen, then Kelly and her husband to my left, Carl and his wife to the right, grandkids all around.

“Let’s go home,” I said giving Karen a squeeze and a kiss. “We’ve a long way to go.” 

Remnant, Chapter 59


January Fourteenth
Valley Road at Highway Two Eighteen
West of Montrose, Iowa
01:30 Hours

It had taken an hour and a half for the infiltrating soldiers to complete their mission, wearing ragged S.A. clothing and openly carrying the hodgepodge of weapons. The S.A. was pushing out on their own, probing the defenses of the Brigade, without fully engaging us.  During the wait, more equipment and a dozen more communications techs arrived and set up their field equipment.  We certainly in a position to attack until we knew what we were up against…and even then, we were likely outnumbered and outgunned. The train carrying the Abrams tanks still had not arrived, nor had we heard from it.

“Sir, that Army artillery unit is on location and awaiting orders,” Corporal Martin said.

“Have them stand by. Should these bastards break out toward the bridge at Keokuk, they’re the last stand. Understood?”

“Yes, sir….One moment sir. Got something from Austin coming in,” he said as Gunnery Sergeant Delaney came into the tent. His clothing was in tatters, boots mismatched, and he was carrying an AK-47.

“Spill it, son,” forgetting that he had to decrypt on the fly.

“Composite is eighteen hours away conservatively, sir. We might get another couple thousand men coming up from Kansas City by rail by then. Air Command might be able to get some support if the weather clears.  Bad storm west of here, moving in tomorrow early morning.  Zero viz over target, way below minimums of the fly-guys weapons systems right now.”

“All right, so we’re on our own, which is about the worst thing we could expect. The S.A. isn’t going to sit there for eighteen hours. Fine.  Not a real big surprise at this point. Gunny, your men got the sensors in place?”

“As best as possible, Colonel, while trying not to get shot.”

“Lieutenant Jenkins, fire it up. Let’s have a look at what we’re up against,” I said.   The topographic map of the area, showing our ‘friendly’ positions, tanks, and other U.S. equipment.  As the field sensors came alive, we could see what we were up against.  

“Gunny, I can see what you mean about a target-rich environment,” I said as someone else in the tent let out a long, descending whistle.   “All right, lets hear it from boots on the ground.”

“Zero noise or light discipline.  Guys sleeping on brush and scrap.  Muddy, nasty ground down there— still frozen up here of course.  Caught a glimpse of what was probably their HQ.  Group of three or four tents about here,” the Gunny said, pointing to the flat-panel display, with heartbeat signatures, moving outward in a radial pattern.  “No signs of civilians or women for that matter. Poor morale by the looks of it.  Warming fires made of whatever they could scrounge, they’re not taking care of their weapons. Maybe five percent of them are in actual tents. Most are outside or under tarps or ponchos. There are a shitload of them and that’s their advantage.  They also have at least a hundred tanks on this end, probably more north. Couldn’t tell. Lined up nice and straight, crews camped under tarps between the tanks.  If we had a few A-10’s and DU shells, we’d light their asses up,” the Gunny said, referring to the super dense depleted uranium shells. “They must have five semi-trucks full of shoulder-fired sams, though, sir.”

“Sergeant Travis,” I asked my sergeant-major, “What’ve we on the south end?”

“We have troops deployed to an east-west line along Two Sixty-Two, sir. Point men believe they are within a hundred and fifty meters, Colonel. No heavy equipment on that end anywhere in sight, although there are at least two large industrial facilities ablaze approximately a mile south of our line. They have a very porous line, our men moved beyond their outer perimeter before we realized it—enemy is not positioned well. Pulled back to the highway to consolidate.”

“Excuse me, Colonel,” Kittrick said. “We have contact with  the train from Kansas City. Dog Six has contact, sir. Secure fourteen Charlie, Colonel.”

“Damned good timing,” I said. “I hope to God they have ammunition with those tanks.”

“Downloading their manifest at this time, Colonel,” Kittrick replied.

The rail line from Kansas City cut diagonally across Missouri and Iowa, bearing northeast to Fort Madison, where it followed the Mississippi for a mile or two, then turned north. I spoke with the Captain in charge of the mechanized unit, and brought him up to speed on our situation. The train was halted at the Highway Two Eighteen crossing a couple miles south of us, and the tanks deployed.  Their commanding officer was pleased to inform me they were fully armed, but would not go into detail until we met in person.

“Sir, this is Captain Gibson, Fourth Infantry Division, Second Brigade, Sixty-Sixth Armor Regiment.”

“Colonel Drummond, good to meet you, sir.”

“Captain, I’ve read a little of your manifest.  A few minutes in the conference room, if you don’t mind,” I said, motioning him over to a folding table in the middle of our impromptu tent.

“Not at all, sir.”

“Gerry, got a few minutes?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. Absolutely.”

“Captain, tell me about the M1A1-N, if you would.”

“Absolutely, Colonel. They’re nicknamed the ‘Nightmare.’

We cobbled up a battle plan from scratch and quickly put things in motion.   The Abrams ‘N’ Models would deploy on high ground south and west of the S.A. encampment, and on the plain behind our point units north of the S.A. Their movement would be masked by the sound of the big diesel electric locomotive engines, running at high throttle but stationary, along with every single engine that Third Washington could muster.
I hoped to push the S.A. back through a little bit of fear, disrupt their sleep, and put them on the defensive long enough for the Nightmares to gain their positions…and then shut everything down. Randomly, we’d order certain units to start up, rev their engines, move a little, and shut down.  

We were favored with a slight breeze from the west, but the low clouds and fog kept our positions well hidden from the S.A. below us, compounded of course by the night.  I ordered field kitchens set up not far from the line, to make sure that the men would at least have some hot food before the counterattack. I had ulterior motives with the kitchens as well.
We’d either win the day or lose everything, here.  It really didn’t matter that we had no more than two more days’ worth of food for the Brigade and the Marine survivors of the S.A. battle. I also suspected that the S.A. was out of food, fresh water, and probably didn’t have adequate shelter or foul-weather gear. I hoped that the aroma of beef stew might waft its’ way through the S.A. troops, barely a mile away.

“Sir, we’re receiving a request from the S.A. field commander to meet at our headquarters at oh four hundred hours. I believe sir, they’re going to ask for our surrender,” Captain Shand told me.

“Let them come on in,” I said with little hesitation. “Field commander and not more than one escort, unarmed. More than that and no one gets through. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“OK. Now, get the word out to shut down all non-essential equipment, and in forty-five minutes, fire it all back up—not the Nightmares, though, and remember not to let stuff sit at idle. Make them think we’re moving stuff around for the last time, getting ready to move on them. For now though, I want it quiet. Calm before the storm. Now, a little change in plans for the command tent, everyone,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear.  “Everyone in the tent, every soldier from the point where the S.A. commander crosses the line to this tent: I want you in clean, new utilities. I want food at every workstation, coffee, the whole thing. I want a dozen men along the path to this tent to be eating a nice, fat sandwich for the S.A. to see. Eat as much as you like, and leave some on your plates. I want these bastards to think that we’re swimming in new equipment, have plenty to eat, and are so well supplied that we throw him off his game. A little theater for our guests. Questions?”

“None, sir,” Major Pat Morrisey said.

“Good. Preparations for the counter continue as planned then, and execution as scheduled,” I said. 

It would be an elaborate ruse, and would work, or we’d be making noise for nothing, the first engagement for the Nightmares would fail, dawn would come, they’d advance up the hill, and eventually overwhelm us. I hoped, again, to throw the S.A. into confusion, with two hundred running diesels, hoping they’d think they were tanks moving into position. Some of that was partially true. I really just wanted them on edge with no rest. The S.A. would find out soon enough.
Promptly at oh four-hundred the advance line unit, well camouflaged and only a hundred meters from the S.A. lines, signaled the approach of two individuals, carrying kerosene lanterns.  Two hundred meters further along, they were searched for weapons, and then directed along a rather difficult climb up the muddy, snowy hillside, which was neither the easiest nor the most direct route.  Their original course though, would have taken them directly to a parked Nightmare.  Per my orders, the men that escorted them in, those that weren’t in weapons-ready mode, were enjoying ham sandwiches on rye, with spicy mustard.  I would have enjoyed seeing the theater.
A few moments later, the S.A. commanding general and a captain stood in the “field command center” for Third Washington. I hovered over Corporal Martin’s workstation, which illustrated the S.A. positions. Other data were not displayed for the moment.

“I’m Colonel Richard Drummond,” I said, not shaking the hand of, nor saluting, the S.A. officers.

“I’m Major General Ames Arnold Slocum. This is Captain Jamal Blankenship. Let me cut to the bone here, Colonel. You are completely outnumbered and at dawn will be wiped out. I am here to demand your immediate and unconditional surrender.”

I laughed a little, holding it back out of ‘respect.’ I noted that both of them were poor poker players, and their eyes moved around the space, taking in the troops in their smart uniforms, the food at the workstations, as I had hoped.

“I’d expected as much. General, it is at your request that you walked through the American line and into my headquarters. It is at my request however, that you surrender unconditionally and immediately.  With that surrender in my hand, I can assure you that you'll live out this day, although not too many more days based on what the S.A. army under your command has done across the Midwest. Places like Van Meter, Iowa, in particular. Without it, I can guarantee that you will not.  I might just shoot you in the balls, and then your head myself. God knows you have it coming."

"You dare threaten me, Colonel? With this pissant force, you think you'll defeat the numbers and the technology that the State of America has amassed? We've all but defeated the Air Force's ability to continue their harassment with our umbrella of missiles. We’ve shot down thirteen planes today alone. We have uncountable numbers of ballistic missiles and the ability to use them at will. We own the day, Colonel.  Your Army training should have by now pointed out the hopelessness of this situation."

"Just to clarify, General. You and your captain here, did walk into this command center of your own free will, that is correct?"

"Of course. To demand your immediate surrender."

"I don't surrender to murderers, you stupid son of a bitch," I said as a half-dozen Californias were leveled on the pair. "Find them a nice, cozy place to sit and watch their defeat."  They were immediately placed face down on the ground, hands and feet bound with industrial-grade zip ties, and roughly placed in two chairs about ten feet from the main display screen that we'd be monitoring shortly.  They were then strapped to the chairs. "And by the way, General Slocum, I'm not regular Army. I'm not even old-school National Guard.  I'm a civilian who got drafted to help turn bastards like you into compost. To reiterate, I’m well more than half-tempted to put bullet in your head right now. Commanders who order children to be killed with grenades shouldn’t be shown one iota of mercy. And if someone wants to prosecute me for that, I'm just fine with it."

"I demand that we be released immediately, Colonel. We came in here under a flag of truce. No way in Hell will you get away with this. My men will come after you and hunt you to the ends of the earth."

“I’ve seen what the State of America First Defense Force did, across four states. Your troops. Your command. Your orders. Your responsibility. You will now begin to pay for your actions and those of your government. I don’t recognize any sort of truce with you, Slocum,” I said, before turning my attention briefly to Weapons Specialist Andrew Jameson.

"Jameson. Light them up,” I said, not taking my eyes off of the General’s bound form.


"Was I unclear, Mister Jameson?" I said, maintaining my glare. The two S.A. officers were now plainly worried.

"Need a few more minutes sir to complete the targeting, sir…to guarantee maximum effectiveness in the sweep,” Corporal Martin answered for Specialist Jameson. “Lotta live targets out there, Colonel, and of course equipment.”

"Fair enough,” I said. “General, your troops shot down three armed or unarmed drones in the past twenty-four hours, and one manned aircraft in the past seven days. No other United States aircraft has been shot down. Your ballistic missile launches have been successful in that they made it off their launchers, and then they had holes burned through them during boost phase, courtesy of the Air Force. Maybe you’re believing your own propaganda,” I said. He sat there and fumed.

The main display screen came alive in three dimensions. The plain terrain model showed the icons of the S.A. troops, scattered to Hell and gone on the plain below us, blue targets on black. The Third Washington and regular Army troops were in red, the M1A1-N's in green, with a light green overlay showing their effective field of fire.

"What in the Hell is this thing? A damned video game?" the well-fed, sweating Captain Blankenship asked us.

"The end of your Army," I said. They didn’t express any additional worry at my statement.

"Ready, sir,” Jameson said.

"Gents, if either of these animals make a move, shoot them someplace painful," I said. “Don’t kill them though. I’m thinkin’ I’d like to see them swing from a tree on Constitution Avenue,” I said, not taking my eyes off of the display. “Unless we find a convenient tree or light pole around here, first, after a meeting with a judge advocate general.”

“Absolutely, Colonel,” A sergeant said. “And thank you for the honor, sir.”

“Slocum, you see this field of blue? Those are your troops. We track them by their heart signature. This view is provided to us by a series of sensors, linked to our communications matrix, as well as to our weapons targeting systems. Our troops infiltrated your lines and placed them there, earlier this evening.  The red, well, those are the good guys. That’d be a rear-area support element known as Third Washington Engineers, part of the Transport Command, numbering around twenty-nine hundred men, and the survivors of the previous S.A. engagement, some fine Marines. Call it three thousand and change. The purple symbols are various tanks, trucks, Humvees, generators, and other noisemakers designed to disturb your troops, or scare the shit out of them.  Those bright green symbols are twenty-four highly modified Abrams tanks, slang name is the Nightmare. The overlapping light green color is their effective field of fire, blanketing the entire S.A. encampment.”

“You think twenty-four tanks are going to take out the entire S.A. regular army? You’re seriously delusional,” Blankenship said, almost spitting it. “We’ll have your balls for breakfast.”

“Nightmare teams ready,” I heard on the console speaker, from the lead tank commander. “Nightmare one-three, charge coupling reset, three seconds to nominal…One-three ready. Nightmare fire teams have a green board.”

“Jameson, execute Sunburn.”

“Sunburn team, execute, execute, execute,” he said into his headset.

The screen instantly illustrated the effect of the Nightmares, as all twenty-four fired in their pre-programmed, coordinated pattern. The terrain we had hastily selected above the S.A. position gave the Nightmares complete battlefield vision, and the range was well within the capability of the Boeing-modified, General Dynamics platform.
The battlefield was immediately divided into triangles of overlapping dark stripes, slowly sweeping across the field of fire. The implications of the dark stripes were not immediately apparent to Slocum and Blankenship. Within seconds of the initial activation, the symbols denoting the individuals of the S.A. army began to panic, running from the invisible weapon, in any direction but the one that was killing them.  We could hear, and feel the detonations of S.A. weapons, and wild fire coming from their troops…firing at the invisible enemy. Five minutes later, it was over. There were no blue symbols left.  Secondary explosions, probably from tank rounds and missiles, continued.

“This is some kind of trick,” Slocum said.

“Not hardly,” I said. “Count of enemy dead, Martin?”

“Eighty-six thousand four-hundred and twelve, sir,” the Corporal replied, generating a startled movement from Slocum.  I suspected he knew to the man, how many he had under his command.


“Zero, Colonel.”

“You want to surrender, or do we turn you loose for the Nightmares to work you over?” I asked the lone remaining S.A. troops for miles.

“This is a trick. You couldn’t possibly have done what you’ve said. You’re lying!” Slocum said.

“No, we’re not.  Come first light, we’ll show you personally. Maybe by then the stench will lessen in the cold. Until then, you are to be treated as a war criminal.  Sergeant Carruthers will be more than happy to see that you’re taken care of appropriately. Strip ‘em naked, throw them in a box. Keep them from committing suicide, Sergeant.”

“Sir!” Carruthers said, nodding to his men to remove the two from the command tent.  A minute later, I gave the command for the majority of the Brigade to safe weapons. There wouldn’t be any more fighting any time soon.

“Jameson, put me through to Austin,” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

“And pass the word, Army artillery, Mechanized, Third Washington and Marine Recon units stand down until oh-six-hundred, excepting Delta rotation,” I said.  Delta was the oh two-hundred to oh six-hundred skeleton crew and basic guard patrol.  “Have an honor guard ready at dawn to raise the colors.  There will be no celebrating.  Clear?”

“Yes, sir. Clear,” Corporal Martin said. 

A minute and a half later, I was on the line with the duty officer in the command car, and then patched through to Theater Command.

After breaking the news, I walked back to Charlie Six, alone.