Sunday, April 28, 2013

Distance, Chapter 51


Thursday morning
September Seventh
10:00 a.m.

The big, rusty bulldozer smoothed the last of the trench cover as the last of the Weerstand fighters left the muddy ravine.  Down on the Des Moines River, a similar sanitation operation had already been completed, with the attackers boats hauled from the river and trucked to a local borrow pit. By nine a.m. they had been mostly stripped of useable parts and the hulls crushed by bulldozers and a large belly-dump earthmover.

One hundred seven attackers were killed in the fighting, ten were taken as wounded. Thirty Weerstand had fanned out to search for stragglers, none had yet been found.  Five Weerstand had been hurt during the night, none due to enemy fire.

Doug and Arie had arrived on scene after Doug’s shift ended. Roeland was in the northern part of the county all night, far away from the fighting.   No law enforcement officers were present at the site, nor any military. The bodies had been gathered, weapons and ammunition removed, and radios taken.  With utmost efficiency, the raiding teams had been laid in common graves cut by the blades of bulldozers, and immediately covered under several feet of wet Iowa earth.

None had identification of any kind, nor did they carry money, wallets, watches or any coins. Half or so carried a small green waist-belt filled with ‘energy bars’.  The drink holster had some kind of sports drink.   The packs had been loaded in the back of an old Chevy one-ton utility service truck, where Doug spotted them before the metal doors were closed. A similarly beat up Dodge panel van held a pile of mismatched rifles and semi-automatic handguns, on the floor of a cage within the van.

“These are Regent,” Doug told Arie, looking at the containers and packaging.  “These are RNEW. I’m certain of it.”

“Charlie! A moment please,” Arie called to a forty-something man, clad in farmer overalls and a well-worn farm coat.

“Adriaan.  What can I do for you?”

“Tell Douglas here about these men,” Arie said, waving to the gravesite.

The large man considered the request for a moment thoughtfully before replying. “Single minded. Relentless, but they seemed not to have a skillful leader. I believe that one of the men captured was part of the leader group,” Charlie replied. He seemed the kind of man that would be most at home at a feed store.  He carried a beautiful lever-action Winchester.

“What happened when the shooting started? How did it start?” Doug asked.

“One of our young ones made a noise from that hillside. They heard it. It seemed like every gun they had fired at the noise. No random fire, no discussion, no order. It was directed right at that spot.  Look at the tree there,” Charlie pointed.  The sixteen-inch diameter tree had been felled by rifle fire, and many of the trees around it had been torn apart. “That tree landed next to the young man who made the noise.  Had it not been for the earth berm, he’d have been cut to pieces.”

“Singular focus,” Doug said to himself.

“When most of them had ceased firing, two or three of them tried to move them forward. We then fired on them from the west side of the ravine before they could reload. They then began to fire on us, and the east side caught them in the back. They never panicked or ran.  They stayed their ground and fired until we killed them,” Charlie explained.

“The wounded? What of them?”

“Most were wounded several times. Some had spinal injuries.  Some were shot in their gun hand. Even so, they all were trying to fight up until the point where they were disarmed.”

“Did they do as they were told once you disarmed them?” Doug asked.

Charlie seemed surprised by the question. “Well, yes. They gave up.”

“They received new orders. From you.” Doug said.

“Douglas, we need to leave now,” Arie said, looking to the east. A helicopter was moving toward them, several miles away still, but close enough to warrant caution.

“These drugs in food. You are sure of this?” Arie said to Doug as they drove further west, away from both the Farm and the ambush site. Arie noted that the helicopter continued to fly west, apparently up the Des Moines River.

“This is more extreme than what I witnessed personally, but from what I read of the research, this is in keeping with the effects of the RNEW when fully activated,” Doug said. “Do you think that’s their helicopter?” he asked, looking through the rear window at the disappearing tree line.

“It would make sense if they are as organized as we suspect. We do not know if the plans for last night were provided to them, or if they were generated by those that attacked. We have to assume that they are looking for their missing friends,” Arie said, point toward the distant dot that was the helicopter.

“What happens next? What if another bunch comes?” Doug asked.

“Eyes are watching for many miles. If they come, they will be met again.”

“Where did they come from? Do you know?”

“The boats were launched on the Missouri side, downriver at the Fort Pike boat launch.  They then came upstream past the Battle of Athens historic site, where they were first heard, although we couldn’t get a good idea on how many were coming.  Then past Farmington and Bonaparte, where one of our people with night vision told us more. They came up Coppers Creek and beached there. Then they came overland up the drainage. Before the launch point, we do not know.”

Doug continued. “So they know—if they’re looking for them—that these raiders launched from that point…Fort Pike? The trucks and trailers are probably there, so they’d look up river.”

“The trucks and trailers are gone. They were gone before dawn,” Arie said.

“OK,” Doug said, thinking about a logical next step. “So they either come and investigate or they move along.”

“Yes. We hope for the latter but plan for the former,” Arie said.

They drove on, heading to the northwest, stopping at a small cemetery. Arie didn’t speak, but exited the old farm truck quietly, heading into an obviously much older part of the graveyard.  Doug quietly followed from a respectful distance.   Arie came to stop before a large, simple marker, stained with lichen. 

“My grandparents,” Arie said quietly.  “They died this day, seventy-five years ago. They had gone to Keokuk, to market. A madman drove his truck into their car at sixty miles per hour.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for, Douglas.  There is madness in the world, there is evil. That same man had that same day run over a ten year old on a bicycle, and before he could be tried, he hung himself in a jail cell,” Arie said, sweeping a few leaves away from the base of the stone. “What you have told us is that the company you work for has created evil that can be summoned with mere words.   That men can be corrupted by eating of this food and of this drink. Douglas, what I heard this morning forces me to say this: You must leave this company, or you must leave our farm. I cannot abide this.”
“I’ve already written my letter of resignation.” 

“Free yourself of this evil. You must do it soon, Douglas. It will consume all those who are near it.”

“I understand.”

2:00 p.m.

Arie and Doug told all at the farm about the attack and outcome, and then Arie had taken a packet of papers taken from the attackers, along with some captured radios, and taken them to Jake.  Doug didn’t remember anything carried by Arie to the truck; the items must’ve been stashed there by one of the Weerstand while they were out of the truck.

Doug was exhausted after his shift and the mornings’ activities. After the mid-day meal, he showered (with Julie, to save water of course) and changed into sleeping clothes.  Julie was ready for her mid-day nap, and Doug was asleep within a few minutes.

His dreams were not pleasant.

Saturday morning,
September Ninth
7:00 a.m.

Doug worked alongside several of the Segher cousins on the morning chores, happy to be relieved from patrol duty.  A second night of cold rain made the experience miserable, with boots that hadn’t dried, sketchy rain gear, and a cold, constant wind. He’d been unpleasantly surprised by Kurt Segher early the previous morning, who stealthily overtook Doug’s observation position unnoticed. Doug’s radio had failed, and he hadn’t noticed it—it appeared to be transmitting, had a full battery pack, but something had failed in the circuitry.  The base station operator, a Segher cousin by the name of Susan, had followed protocol and tried to contact Doug with a code-word response with no luck.  When the other observation posts in the area also failed to reach Doug, prescribed plans were put into motion.

Kurt was the first to arrive, silently arriving in Doug’s observation post as Doug looked out toward a blackened tree line. He’d nearly had a heart attack as Kurt poked him in the back with a bayonet, fixed on his rifle.  Kurt also had the advantage of third-generation night vision, one of four such setups within the Weerstand. Doug didn’t really stand a chance.

Kurt provided Doug a new radio, and disappeared back into the dark rain. Doug had three more hours of watching and listening to the wind and rain, with regular radio checks.

In his time on the Farm, Doug had learned more about small farm egg and dairy production than he’d learned in twenty years in commercial food production, and a fair amount about small-scale, home based food preservation as well.  When he wasn’t spending precious time with Julie or on patrol, he read from the many resources in print at the Farm. Some were County Extension agent publications; some were commercial. Some, like a well-worn, stained book by Carla Emery, had obviously been loved to death.   Doug made a note to try to find a copy.  All the while, he was counting down the days he had left here, before returning back to Denver.

“Back to a farmhand, huh Doug?” Jake Segher asked.

“Kind of suits me. Peaceful. No one sticking a bayonet in your ribs,” Doug said as Kurt laughed.

“Got a minute? I could use a hand over in the shed,” Jake said. Kurt went off to another outbuilding.

“Sure. I’m sure this manure will wait,” Doug replied, putting down the mucking shovel. “What’s up?”

“Something to show you. You might be thinking about it when you go back to Regent,” Jake said with narrowing eyes.

“OK,” Doug said, not knowing quite what to make of the comment.

Inside the equipment shed, the cage had been dramatically expanded with the additions of chain-link panels with copper wire woven through the sections and grounded.  Six large tables were placed inside the cage.

“This is the gear taken from the raiders,” Doug said. “Why’s it in here?”

“Because every stick of it was chipped. Every rifle, every magazine. Every vest, belt, holster and bandolier. Every meal pack. Every piece of this is traceable.”

Doug noted that none of the gear matched—there were well-worn, filthy equipment packs and brand-new kits and rifles scattered on the table. Someone had at least grouped the equipment by type, with AR types on one table, AK’s on another, bolt actions on two more, handguns of many styles in a pile next to mismatched magazines, bandoliers, vests, and a five-gallon bucket of loose rounds. A pile of knives, bayonets and machetes lay on the floor.

“How…” Doug started before being cut off.

“Someone took a long, long time to do this.  Didn’t happen overnight,” Jake said. “More interestingly are the chips themselves. RFID of course. Eastern European design, manufactured in China; two, maybe three years ago. The coding is interesting, too. The equipment here represents three distinct operational units. The database I’ve compiled inventoried all of it. There’s a numeric order here, where each unit is generally comprised of similar numbers of men, similar mixes of bolt-action and semi-auto, similar varieties of weapons with non-matching ammunition.”

“So each unit…is a mish-mash of men, weapons, calibers…” Doug asked.

“Yes. Three units, generally the same personnel count, generally equipped with the same variety of gear. This had to be deliberate.”

“Why would they do this?”

“So they could shoot with whatever they can find,” Jake said. “They’ve chipped it I’d guess for inventory, but also for tracking. None of this has active transmitter ability—all is passive but has a fair responsive range, up to a hundred meters with an off-the-shelf reader. Which is where you come in.”

“Uh, OK, how exactly?”

“The chips in these do not record signals that ping them—meaning that they can be scanned by anyone, anywhere, and there’s no record of it. Newer chips can tell an administrator who has scanned the chip, when, where, and how many times.  I’ve got a reader that I want you to take with you. It will only scan this type of chip; record what it’s scanned and where; and do it to a five hundred meter radius, very quickly and quietly. Frequently enough to get a good reading, not frequently enough to draw attention.”

“Attention?” Doug asked, surprised.

“Anyone that’s paying attention should have countermeasures in place to detect frequencies that are pinging their equipment. This should register as nothing more than rogue signals or reflected transmissions. It does not operate in a predictable pattern in either timing or signal strength,” Jake said.

“And you don’t think they’re watching?” Doug asked.

“I don’t know. This is not without risk,” Jake said, looking Doug directly in the eye. “You’re heading back to Des Moines, then to Denver come Monday. You then work there until your resignation, when you return. You may then head to points unknown. The data you collect could prove very interesting.”

“What exactly is this scanner? This reader?”

“When we had reliable cell phones, we’d use that. A smart phone with a little quiet upgrading, a little GPS tracking and data recorder. Now that most of the cell system is dead, along with most satellites, most smart phones are paperweights. So are tablets. But not the old-fashioned PDA,” Jake said, sliding an old Palm Tungsten T5 out of his pocket and handed it to Doug.

“Wow. I haven’t seen one of those in years,” Doug replied, flipping open the worn aluminum hard case and looking at the T5 like an old friend.  “I had a T3. Loved that thing.”

“There’s an application on here, buried underneath a chess game. You beat the chess game on the first level, lose the second at ‘check’, win the third, and the program activates and runs for twenty-four hours and includes location tracking and a motion sensor. It’ll shut down if the unit is stationary for more than an hour. The second time you play, you forfeit immediately and the program activates. There is plenty of internal storage that’s dedicated to the tracking program, outside of any other file storage you might want to include,” Jake said. “You in?”

“How do I transmit the information?”

“You don’t. There’s no way to do it outside of a hard dock and a sync with a trusted computer carrying the unlock algorithm,” Jake said, pointing toward an old computer on the workbench. “This is old school.”

“You said motion tracking—but the GPS network is dead,” Doug said.

“Commercial telecom systems aren’t all dead. This will ping signals off of whatever and record the location information by time. You’ll need to record when you activate it—put it on the ‘notes’ app—‘Arrived in Des Moines Oh-Nine-Thirty’. That’ll let us synchronize in general terms, which is good enough. Nowhere near as accurate as a GPS, but easily enough information to provide a more global view,” Jake said. “So…you in?”

Doug thought for only a moment before replying. “Yeah. I’m in.”

11:00 a.m.

Lunch preparations were well underway when Julie’s brother Peter burst into the Kitchen.  Doug had been slicing potatoes and nicked himself.

“It’s Molly.  I think she has the flu,” Peter said. The room, a moment before bustling, went dead quiet. Maria switched off the burners on the stove and quickly took off her apron.
“Fever?” Maria asked, gathering up some things into a bag.

“Yes. One oh two. It’s been climbing since eight,” Peter said as Arie entered the room.

“We should see Doctor Jameson at once,” Arie said. Doug didn’t even know Arie was in the house.

“Where is his office?” Doug asked.

Julie checked the calendar. “He’s in Mount Pleasant today,” she replied.  Doug didn’t know there was such a schedule posted on the calendar.

“Peter, is she here?”

“She’s in the Suburban. Beth is watching Ian,” Peter said. Baby Ian was not quite eight months old.

“Maria, you go with Peter and Molly. We’ll follow.  Douglas, would you care to drive?”

“You bet,” he said as Julie handed him his jacket.  The rain was picking up again. “I’ll let Jake know.” Julie looked very worried, as did Maria. 

Doug retrieved the Jeep from the equipment shed, and filled Jake in on Molly’s condition. He quickly informed the rest of the family via radio, and word then spread throughout the network.

Arie helped Julie into the front seat of the Jeep, before sitting behind her on the passenger side.  They quickly made their way through the barriers at the Farm inner driveway, and then headed west to Mount Pleasant, a little more than fifteen miles away. Doug turned on the AM radio as they followed Peter’s Suburban.  The host seemed bitter, complaining about the President’s inability to gather enough momentum to deal with any one crisis effectively, causing all of the immediate problems to be much worse.  The bombardment of multiple crises was just beyond Lambert’s ability.   Arie reached over and shut off the radio. 

The rest of the trip was made in silence.