Thursday, January 31, 2013

Distance, Chapter 49


Saturday morning,
September Second
4:04 a.m.

Doug had volunteered for the two to six a.m. watch, but had been overruled from perimeter watch until Roeland, Peter and Hendrik could train him on procedures and the lay of the land.  Instead, he was tasked with listening to overnight patrol reports from the main farm and seven other adjacent farms in the alliance.  Each had their own frequencies; each had their own base station monitoring all of the others as well as numerous other pre-programmed frequencies in the region. Between the seven farms, nearly a thousand frequencies were scanned, covering many of the active ham radio bands; police, fire and emergency services from Des Moines to Cedar Rapids, into Illinois and well into Missouri.  Should any trouble arise on any of the local farms everyone on watch would know about it immediately.  If one farm needed assistance, all other farms stood ready to send reinforcements, while still maintaining their own defenses.
The system had been set up after an attack on a distant relatives’ farm outside of Monona, in northeastern Iowa.  A similar setup with communications had been in place, and when the call went out for aid, nearly all of the watchmen and reserves responded. The three other farms were then hit with multiple attacks—the first had been diversionary to assess defenses and to pin down those defenders while brute force overwhelmed the rest of the farms, stripped of defenses as part of the mutual aid response.  The survivors estimated the attacking force at more than a hundred men. The attackers then retreated in an orderly manner into Wisconsin.
The seven farms in the Segher alliance though, were just one cell of many. Word of any attack from any direction on any of the rural properties would rapidly spread. Relationships built between neighbors over generations of farming and marriage and business created the quilt of common bond throughout the region. 
An old, stained map had been pinned to the corkboard above the bank of radios in the equipment shed, not far from where Doug’s Jeep was parked.  The map had been marked with a bright orange highlighter, identifying areas that were ‘claimed’ by the New Republic. Most of Illinois lay within their claim, and it was possible that the raiding party from Wisconsin was part of this new threat. There were few States that agreed with—in public—the New Republic Declaration of Independence, but reports on shortwave spread like wildfire.  Many of the Northeastern states were supporting—covertly—this New Republic organization.  Already, refugees from these states were beginning to move West, and running low on fuel well short of their destinations.
Family farm operations across the region were a fraction of pre-Collapse in size, but diversity had increased dramatically.  With many of the corporate farms lying fallow for lack of fuel, seed and fertilizer, the smaller subsistence farms were wrapping up their summer harvests. Temperatures over the average Labor Day weekend were normally in the high seventies or eighties, with lows in the fifties at night.  This year however, the highs barely hit seventy, and nighttime temperatures hovered around forty degrees. The Federal weather prediction system had no explanation for the cooler temperatures, and no meaningful outlook for the coming fall and winter.
Arie however, knew early in the year that something was dramatically different, and doubled the production of cool-weather crops, while tightly minding the inventories of grains for both human and animal use, buying or trading for more as the season went on.
The extended family had been canning and dehydrating food from early June on, filling the storerooms at the main farm, Catharina and Tom’s new home, Peter and Molly’s place, and the rest of the families storerooms.  Root crops would be coming out of the ground within the next few weeks, and would again be distributed to various root cellars of the family. Winter squash would be stored intact; pressure canned, and dehydrated, Doug learned from Julie. Doug had little doubt that the Segher clan would make it through the winter in good shape, missing little in the way of store-bought foods.

Jake Segher’s workbench held the pile of electronics retrieved from the police station, and several neatly organized stations where the electronics that were transmitting were opened up for inspection. After opening up the shortwave transceiver case, a trip wire of some kind attached to the case shorted out the transmitting feature of the modified radio, Jake discovered to his irritation. He removed the non-factory parts and placed them in their own little copper box.  Using what he’d learned from the shortwave transceiver, Jake carefully examined the cable television box before cracking the case open.  The cable box, Jake discovered, had an independent power supply, RFID chip, wi-fi transmitter, a video feed, and a substantial flash-memory storage card—none of it factory installed, and none of the technology had anything in common with the parts removed from the shortwave. Additionally the cable box additions were completely hidden under the main cable TV circuit board, out of view of casual inspection.
After dinner the previous evening, Jake and Doug talked about Jake’s discoveries, as Doug removed the United States Government stickers from the Jeep with a heat gun and a razor blade.  Doug concluded that the equipment was all put in by Regent.  Jake however, concluded that the cable gear was too sophisticated for a private sector corporation, unless it was engaged in industrial espionage in a hostile location. 

“Why would they monitor their own staff with such sophistication?” he asked Doug.

“Because they trust no one,” Doug replied.

“Nonsense. You’re proof that you’re wrong. If they didn’t trust you, you’d be dead in a ditch someplace or fed to the pigs.”

“Point made,” Doug said with no small amount of shock. “Let me clarify. I believe there are factions within Regent that don’t trust anyone—that use whatever means necessary to get leverage over others.”

“OK. That does make sense, but I’m still not buying it. I think this stuff is Big Brother,” Jake replied.  “One way or the other, you’ll probably find out soon enough.  I seriously doubt they’ll like having this equipment out in the wild all on its lonesome.”

“They’ll come for it?”

“Pretty good chance of it, once you get back to civilization, assuming they still have assets afield.”

“I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” Doug said.  Jake looked at Doug with unblinking eyes.

“Doug, you ever shoot anyone?”

Doug flinched a little involuntarily. “Yeah, actually. Several.”

“OK. Advice: Do not, if confronted by someone that could be Fed, get in the way--especially for something like this.  Assuming you go on this road trip for the FDA next week, do yourself a favor and just leave this thing in the Jeep. If you see someone breaking in to get it, let ‘em have it. I have no idea what’s on that flash card, or if there’s anything of value at all. But I do know that once that thing is in proximity to any one of a number of innocent-looking pieces of hardware on any number of telephone poles, it will receive a query from Someone, Somewhere, and it will answer.”

“Telephone poles?” Doug asked.

“You ever see a grey box on a telephone pole? Or maybe a drum-shaped thing on a post along a road? Or just one of those green or tan phone junction boxes at the side of some road?”

“Yeah, of course,” Doug replied.

“Those don’t just provide convenient places to connect wire ‘A’ to wire ‘B’; they haven’t for many years.”

“Oh,” Doug said, feeling stupid. “I had no idea.”

“Nearly no one does,” Jake said chuckling.  “All this talk about the Government adding cameras and watching people and all that over the past couple of years just makes me laugh. They’ve known for forty years everything you’ve said on the phone, every page you load on the internet, anyone you talk to, anything you write. People are up in arms two generations too late.”

As the stars in the eastern sky began to fade with the coming dawn, Doug’s quiet contemplation was destroyed with bursts of radio traffic from radio transmissions in the east.

Eighty miles away, between Peoria and Galesburg, Illinois, a probable raiding party was spotted by a deputy sheriff.  Word was immediately broadcast in that area to adjacent properties and their respective protection cells. Moments after that, the radio transmissions were jammed with reports of attacks from Springfield, Illinois to Moline, just across the Mississippi from Davenport, Iowa.
Doug was monitoring two frequencies in that area, and getting reports from the six other base stations in the Segher group on the dozen or so frequencies they were listening to.  Nothing was happening nearby, but protocol called for Doug to provide warning to those on watch, from references in a book that he was not exactly well versed in. He referred to his cheat-sheet, instead.

“One Peter Five Eight.  Repeat, One Peter Five Eight,” Doug said quietly into the microphone.

“One Six One Eight,” was the singular reply a few moments later.

Doug’s warning referred to the Bible verse, ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’   The reply was from the book of Matthew chapter sixteen, verse eighteen, ‘And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’

The distance from the raiders to the Segher Farm and allied farms was not important at the moment.  All watchmen were on a heightened level of awareness for any potential raid from any direction. Should potential raiders be in the area, the watchmen would report back with the first part of Samuel, chapter seventeen, verse one, ‘Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle,’ at which point, Doug and the others manning the radios would relay for a general call-up of all armed men and women in the area.
The cheat sheet had a dozen numbers and their usage guidelines.  Doug would come to memorize them all.

The string of attacks in Illinois stayed on the east side of the Mississippi, but from what Doug could determine, there were at least twenty separate raids taking place simultaneously. It was impossible to tell though, how successful they were.

At the end of their shift, Doug gathered with Peter, Roeland and Hendrik, as the half-strength day shift, including Catharina’s husband Tom and his oldest, Colin, took up the rifles and fresh radios, and headed out to their observation posts.  Cath settled into the listener’s seat in front of the radios, and reviewed the notes that Doug had compiled. 
The many farms on the informal radio network had learned over the weeks and months that raiding parties had never attacked any farm in the few hours after sunrise. The admittedly-prejudiced consensus among many of the farm leaders was that the raiders were mostly city people, and it was just ‘too early’ for them.  As a result of these defined patterns, the Seghers and any of a hundred other farms reduced their guards and proceeded back to the business of farm operations in the early hours of the day. 
The clear, cold night had given way to increasing clouds moving in from the northwest and steady winds.  The four men coming off of the nightwatch all felt the first raindrops, softly at first, but steady by the time they reached the porch.
Doug ate a light breakfast without coffee, and planned to head to bed for a few minutes with Julie before she arose. Before he was able to leave the breakfast table though, Cath called to the house on one of the UHF radios used around the Farm.   Immediately it became clear that the ‘night raids’ weren’t following the predictable pattern. The ‘night shift’ hurried back to the equipment shed to get more information.

“What’s going on, Cath?” Roeland asked of his older sister as soon as they’d closed the door.

“Three more raids. Smaller attacking groups,” she replied, listening to the continuing reports while taking notes.

“Distance?” Peter asked.

“Salem. Hillsboro. Bonaparte,” Catharina replied.

Roeland explained the significance to Doug: Salem was less than ten miles from the Farm; Hillsboro eight miles; and Bonaparte a spare six miles away. They were too far from each other to be a single raiding party. All were small villages without permanent police presence.

“Size of the raiding parties?”  Hendrik asked.

“No more than a dozen. These are different though,” Cath said. “They’re taking people too, not just food or supplies.”

“What? Human trafficking?” Doug asked.

“They’re taking women,” Cath said flatly. “Use your imagination. Doug, would you take over these two?” she said, handing a slip of paper with two scanner ranges scrawled down. “I thought I heard another call, but it went dead before I could hear it. Then these came up.”

“Are all the other farms already on alert?” Hendrik asked.

“Yes,” Cath replied.

Doug picked up another headset and quickly set up the frequency ranges, and was instantly hit with the sound of gunfire. “Another one here,” Doug told them. “Not sure where yet.”

“Keep us informed. We’re going back out,” Peter said.  “Roel, aren’t you on duty today?” he asked, referring to Roeland’s deputy sheriff’s responsibilities.

“Not until noon. Twelve shift tonight,” he replied, meaning a twelve hour shift.

Doug waved to them to stop as he listened to the frantic voices.

“Charlie’s. They’re still at Charlie’s! We’ve got to get back across the bridge!” a very scared man yelled into the radio. Doug heard multiple rifles firing in the background.

“Too many! They’re flanking us!” another voice yelled.

“We’re coming. We’re on River Road one mile west,” a third voice said, trying to calm the first two.

“More on the River Road, half mile from the Eldon bridge,” a deep male voice reported, quietly. “Four vehicles. Two pickup trucks with men in the back, two light pickups with shooters in the back.”

“All right, that’s thirty plus,” another calm voice replied. “We can all see what they’ve got. Take out the drivers before they hit that bridge. First unit, push their dismounts from Seventh back to Ninth.  Second unit, push them back to the river. And get our people back.”

“They mentioned ‘Eldon’,” Doug said.  Hendrik walked up to the map and pointed to a river crossing and a small town, ten or twelve miles west and a little north of the Farm. He placed a red pin at that location, and at the towns that Cath had mentioned.

The radios went silent for a moment before several agonizing screams forced Doug to turn down the volume on what he’d determined to be the attackers’ radio frequency.  One of the attackers radios either had an open mic or he was activated by his voice.

“I’ve got both sides of this fight. Attackers and defenders!”  Doug flipped the speakers on both of the broadcasts. Catharina listened as well.

“Jesus, I’m hit! Someone help me! I…can’t breathe….” A man shrieked, before his voice transitioned to a wet, choking gurgle.

“Unit one, mop up on the west of the bridge,” one of the defending commanders directed.

“We’ve got dismounts fleeing to the south from the trucks. Pursue?”

“Wound them if they run and kill them if they shoot back, Unit Two,” the commander said with ice in his voice. “They’ve killed our people,” the man spat. “They killed them all.”

A few more minutes of gunfire was heard on the ‘attackers’ radio, with the panting of several men.

“Four prisoners,” one of the defenders said to his commander.

“Count of enemy dead,” the commander asked without inflection.

“Fourteen this side of the bridge.  Twenty six on the south side.”

“You find a leader?” the commander asked.

“Sorry sir, he took three rounds to the head.”

“Load them up and bring them all in,” was the reply. “Reserve Unit, police up the vehicles, weapons, ammunition and equipment.  Stage it as discussed.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Damned efficient,” Roeland said. “I’m not sure who that is but I’d like to find out.”

“We need to get out to our positions,” Hendrik said. “Cath, are your radios…” she cut him off with a wave of her hand.

“Yes. Still going,” she said, not raising her head.

Arie, Maria and Julie entered the equipment shed as Hendrik reached for the door.

“What’s going on?” Julie asked. Doug stopped for a moment and smiled at her, thinking to himself just how lucky he was to have found her.  Hendrik filled them in as Roeland and Peter picked up two matching AR-15’s and vests.  The Farm had eight identical rifles of the type, along with load-bearing vests with extra magazines, a pocket for one of the small tactical radios, and a chest-mounted holster for a .45 caliber handgun. Other contents of each vest included a map of the area, a pocket for a small first aid kit, and a packet of beef jerky, dried fruit and nuts.   Other watch equipment was contained in a small pack that each watchman took out to their assigned observation point.

The frequencies that Doug had been monitoring went quiet as the minutes passed. He assumed that the defenders in Eldon had completed their work, and were tending to their wounded and dead.

“Father, we need to talk with the Weerstand,” Cath told Arie.

“Why, child? What do you find?” he replied.

“These attackers. They come from nowhere. They come from within. They are already among these places. They did not travel from the east or the south, they sprung up from within.”

“How do you know this?”

“There were no vehicles involved until the attacks were well underway.  They came in afoot. Only after they had attacked did the vehicles arrive. The vehicles were used for retreat—to take what they had stolen.”

“They did this where?” Arie asked as Maria looked on sternly.

“Salem, Hillsboro and Bonaparte,” Cath replied.

“And probably Eldon. Same pattern,” Doug added, realizing what Cath was saying. “They must be moving in at night, or only moving at night.”

“There is something I do not understand though,” Catharina said, making marks on a small folded map. “In Bonaparte and Hillsboro, the trucks. They left behind some of their people. They left them to fight for themselves.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Julie said. “You don’t leave your people behind.”

Doug wondered. “Unless those people don’t matter to you.”

“What?” Julie asked.

“Were those men worth less than what or who they took?” Doug asked.

No one replied for many seconds. Maria finally answered. “People don’t do that. You bring your people home.”

“You are applying your belief system to people that do not necessarily believe in the same things, Maria,” Doug said, before turning to Cath. “Cath, was there heavy fighting in those cases?”

“No. That is what I found disturbing. There was little fighting at the end.  They just drove off. The people in Hillsboro then hunted down the stragglers. The others in Bonaparte are still chasing them.”

“Why this? Why now?” Julie asked.

“Something bigger’s going on,” Doug answered.  “Maybe part of this New Republic business. I don’t know.”

“We call the Weerstand immediately. Catharina, make the call,” Arie said with resignation.  “We will meet today. Here, for luncheon.”

Maria nodded and tugged Julie along back to the house. “We’ve work to do, now.”

“Arie, what can the Weerstand do?” Doug asked.

“We go hunting, Douglas. We do not wait to be preyed upon. The fight will come to them, and we will bring it.”

Doug leaned back in the chair for a moment before responding, considering what Arie had just said.  “Arie, the men I met…”

“Are far more capable than they might appear,” Arie replied before Doug could finish. “Do not underestimate their abilities based on your eyes, for they deceive you.”

“The men I met are farmers. Business owners…”

“Yes. They fight for their homes, their wives and children and brothers and sisters. There are men in the Weerstand that have fought for the United States, but remember there are also men who have fought in South Africa to defend their farms, and lost family and property and generations of heritage and ended up leaving that place. In the words of one, this is but a tactical challenge that can be met, matched, and defeated. Come now. There is much work to do,” Arie said, turning to the door.

“Cath, are you OK on the radios now?” Doug asked.

“Yes. Elisabeth will be here soon. She can help if things get busy.” 

“Catharina, please provide estimates on the locations of these raiders and where you think they’re heading, ja?”

“Yes, papa. Soon now.”

Doug and Arie walked on the brick pathway to the house as the rain picked up. “You good with a rifle, Douglas?”

“I’d regard myself as ‘adequate’. No more than that.”

“Jacob will spend some time with you in the small barn. He can hone your skills, ja?”

“That would be a good idea.”

“’Time grows short, along with our days’, my father once told me,” Arie said as they reached the house. “We must make good of them.”