Sunday, January 12, 2014

Distance Chapter 57


Friday, November 17
6:10 a.m.
Peterson Cabin on the Segher Farm

Waking to the wind-up alarm was nothing new to Doug, although more than two months ‘home’ now with Julie, he still woke with a smile on his face, knowing she was with him.

They’d settled in to a very small home on Segher property, this one farther off the beaten path than any of the other homes.  The little house had been a summer cabin or guest-house on occasion, barely modernized over its long history. Doug and Julie’s combined furnishings couldn’t fill the five small rooms.   Tucked into the oak and hickory west of the main farm, the cabin cooked with wood, heated with wood, and other than a sixty-amp electrical service to run lights, a small water heater and the refrigerator, was off-grid. Since move-in day, Doug and Julie had used the lighting sparingly, but had used the electricity to listen in on the world outside of the dozen or so counties surrounding them.  He wasn’t too surprised to see the battery-powered LED ‘power failure light’ in the kitchen glowing softly.  Electric power had been spotty for more than a month now.  He flipped on the battery-powered scanner and heard some garbled transmissions, but mostly static.  An old AM/FM car radio, also running on twelve-volt power, was scanning the AM band, but nothing was transmitting.

‘That’s odd,’ Doug thought.

Julie remained asleep, snuggled deep in fleece sheets beneath the down comforter as Doug rose and built a new fire in the cookstove. He briefly looked outside, shining a big flashlight across the clearing beyond the porch. Still an hour before sunrise, there was no hint of light, but what surprised him the most was the ice built up on the window frame and porch rail. There had been no meaningful news in days, only stories fabricated from whole cloth for the pleasure of those in the media for the consumption of the people, obviously as directed by the State. Weather reports were out of the question. 

Life in the State of America bore little resemblance to life in the United States of America, despite the geography. Since his return to Iowa and being reunited with Julie, Doug had thus far put his Regent life behind him, and had built a great deal of trust within the Weerstand. While he’d only had a half-dozen missions in the field, mostly drops of supplies and one-time code books, his thoughts on actions against the State were considered as seriously as any other.  Unlike some in the Weerstand, Doug did not hold a job off-farm—entirely due to the probability that Regent would find him. His knowledge of both Regent and now S.A. beliefs also made him a bit too valuable to risk.  

The Weerstand in southeast Iowa and in other adjacent regions had been fairly successful at quietly infiltrating the lower levels of local and government, never rising to positions of leadership that were obviously a counter to the direction coming from the new masters.  A number of accidents had occurred in many parts of the state over the past two months, including several single-vehicle accidents, hunting tragedies, and unfortunate industrial incidents. The Weerstand proved to be exceptionally skilled at covert opertions. In only one case was direct action needed—in that case, the options were limited to a subsonic .22 delivered from a suppressed Walther PPKS, or a five-inch long ice pick. The operative in that case chose two rounds from the .22 moments after the target opened the door to his pickup, after meeting with a State of America representative.  The point was well taken, as S.A. leaders from that point forward were always surrounded by men in black uniforms, openly carrying H&K MP-5 submachine guns.  The increasingly visible protection just made the targets easier to find.

Beginning on the first of November, the Weerstand had begun to scout out several S.A. sympathizers in Des Moines, those openly kissing up to the new S.A. governor. When an appropriate point in time arrived and Weerstand operatives were ready, the resistance would quietly and efficiently deal with the S.A. There were no Weerstand people in the replacement queue—these targets were clearly causing the deaths of other Iowans, and it had to cease. Those operations would continue, until the threats were eliminated.

Doug’s debrief after his return from Denver had taken two full days, much of it spent with Jake Segher mapping out Doug’s route, his observations, and the mountain of signals intelligence stored in the obsolete Palm PDA. Jake had found a further layer of information in the chips found in the captured S.A. equipment, this layer identifying the weapon by type. 

Jake double- and triple-checked Doug’s data and then re-checked the programming on the ‘ping’ program, before nearly throwing it out completely. The numbers couldn’t be correct, he’d thought.  Blind tests though, using other captured equipment proved to him that the data collected by Doug probably was accurate.  Between Doug’s departure on September Tenth and his return four days later, the scanner on the PDA had pinged four hundred thousand firearms, over a million MRE packs, and enough supporting gear and munitions to support around a half-million men in the field for three months.  The numbers were staggering.

Doug and Roeland finally convinced Jake to memorialize the data in a formal report and to send it up the Weerstand chain of command. The report was sent out on September Twentieth, but there was little the Weerstand could do about the various caches of stockpiled materiel…until hostilities broke out in late October.  By then though, many of the stockpiles had vanished, as the Weerstand wasn’t able to watch the suspected locations constantly.  Without a dangerous trip through the area with another scanning device, the equipment was untraceable.

Jake had found a way to get through to U.S. forces with the information at the end of October, but the reply he received was at best condescending: “Information provided cannot be reliably confirmed; further, the amount of munitions and distribution of equipment to be frank, is ludicrous.”  More than a little offended, Jake replied, “Recognize that while we have skin in the game, most of these weapons will be primarily pointed at you.”

No further communications had been received regarding the collected information, but the Weerstand took the knowledge as fact, and began full-time surveillance operations on several suspected storage sites.  Scanning would be possible only within the parameters of frequently changing curfews--ruthlessly enforced and immensely dangerous.

S.A. ‘Security Partners’ ran the streets in the major cities within S.A. territory—the ‘Partners’ were often former gang members, with upper leadership comprised of the Statist faithful.  They really had few rules to work around—if they believed you were a threat, a danger, or held something that they wanted, what was yours was theirs. If a ‘story’ didn’t ring true or could actually be verified, there was an even chance that an innocent person would be shipped out to points unknown. No one shipped out had ever been seen again---rumors were running rampant.  In smaller cities and towns, a handful of the Partners usually intimidated enough local law enforcement into doing the dirty work. Such was the case in the towns near the Farm.  The Weerstand had identified the local enforcers in the region, and would take action when the time came.

Private ownership of firearms, ammunition and reloading supplies overnight became a capital offense in the S.A., but enforcement was as dangerous to the S.A. as it was to the general public. That particular Executive Order was widely ignored outside of Denver, but gave any S.A. commander probable cause for anyone holding a concealed carry permit or anyone ever having purchased a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. Despite the ‘law’ prohibiting ‘registration’ of firearms on a national basis, the backdoor database was there for the taking.  Data-mining from other ‘anti-terrorist’ databases, cross referenced on demand, easily tracked other purchases, including ammunition and reloading components, ‘tactical’ equipment, water filtration equipment, or ‘long-term storage food.’  Most purchases were made on credit cards, easily tracing the transactions electronically, and completely open to the government to observe.  Tying those specific transactions into security camera feeds in stores provided instant verification of who-bought-what.  The banks couldn’t do anything about the data mining even if they wanted to—they’d accepted Federal bailouts, with all strings attached.  No bank V.P. wanted to be the victim of an unfortunate ‘hot tub accident’ any more than he wanted to be investigated for ‘insider trading’ or arrested for various forms of ‘illegal material’ that was ‘found’ on his home computer, or die in a ‘single vehicle accident.’

Doug made Julie a simple breakfast to be taken in bed, just tea, toasted apple bread with butter, and bacon.   ‘Second breakfast’ was usually between nine and ten in the morning and usually included eggs, fruit and juice, and a late lunch, usually around one-thirty or so.

“Good morning, mom-to-be,” he said softly as he nudged the door open with his knee.

“What time is it? It seems early,” Julie said as she pulled herself upright, a little awkwardly. “It’s cold.”

“Not quite seven.  And it is cold. It’s only fifteen outside,” he said, kissing her good-morning.

“And fifty inside.”

“A little better. Almost sixty-five.  I need to bring in more wood right away, and re-fill the bin downstairs today.”

“After you move that string of ham like you promised,” Julie said.  Part of the cellar of the cabin was their long-term pantry, with many shelves filled with canning jars and cans.  Down the middle though, Doug had strung up a dozen smoked hams, cured in Roeland’s smokehouse. Half of the hams were nearly a year old now, the younger ones around six months in cure. The curing string was getting difficult for Julie to navigate around. 

“Did you eat?” Julie asked, taking a bite of the delicious bread.

“Yep. Ate at the stove—cooks’ prerogative. Did you get enough sleep?”

“After three I did.  Someone was kicking,” Julie said, patting her unborn child.

“I told you that you should lay off the spicy food,” Doug said with raised eyebrows and lowered chin.

“I like peperoncini. Crave, even.”

“Then don’t blame me when Junior is doing gymnastics four hours later,” Doug replied.  “I’ll go get some more wood.  The hot water should be ready for a shower in about ten minutes.”

“Thanks. I never remember to switch that thing on.”

“They say memory’s the first thing to go,” Doug said, making a hasty retreat as his pillow hit the door jamb.

He suited up on the screen porch, now enclosed with heavy storm windows, barely keeping out the snow and ice.   He donned insulated overalls, heavy boots and a fur lined hat, grabbing his leather mittens on the way out the door, the heavy canvas wood-carrier tucked under his arm.

The wood shed had been built under the trees behind the back porch, crafted from heavy oiled timbers and then shingled with wood and later, metal roofing.  Doug and Peter had spent a couple days loading up this particular woodshed, stacking twelve cords of dried firewood, gathered more than a year before, split and dried under the cover of a ramshackle equipment shed.  Each of the family homes had at least ten cords of wood on hand, with more downed trees around the property for future use. Thankfully, this year the vast majority of the wood had been cut and split with a Segher-built cutting and splitting machine that found a soft-spot in Doug’s life. 

The machine, built on an old flat-bed trailer, had a log grapple mounted to a hydraulic crane that picked up sixteen foot sections of limbed trees and placed them in a cradle.  The cradle had an operator-controlled conveyor, cutting the logs to length as needed with a minimal amount of work from the operator.  Another operation raised a splitting plate at the end of the conveyor on one end of the sectioned log, where a hydraulic ram split the logs into four or eight pieces, depending on the split head installed.  Two engines operated during processing, churning out a sizeable pile of wood with relatively little effort, compared to hand-cutting, splitting, and stacking.    The machine, created by Arie and his late brother, had been modernized a bit over time, and was usually shared with non-family neighbors, after the Segher woods had been addressed.  Doug was able to run the machine for a couple of days, and would have done more, but the early snows ended the season early.  When the splitting season was done, Doug took an extra day to completely clean and lube the machine, replace an leaking hydraulic line, and rebuild one of the hydraulic controls.

The ice was thick on top of the six inches of snow, almost holding Doug’s weight, but with each step he crunched through the shell.  He’d need to load at least a half-cord into the basement today, as the bin was nearly empty. Fortunately there was a chute built into the cellar for the purpose.   He loaded the canvas carrier quickly, thinking about the larger task later in the day. 

Doug had taken three steps toward the house when he felt the noise before hearing it, and stopped in his tracks. He’d just barely turned when some sort of aircraft—moving hundreds of miles an hour—roared overhead just above the trees.  A second, and then a third followed immediately.  He could just make out the blur—no definite shape, no lights, just incredible speed and unbelievable noise. He ran toward the house.  Julie met him in the kitchen.

“What was that?!” she asked anxiously.  “I thought it was an earthquake!”

“Military. Fighters, I think, but I just saw a blur. Three of them.”

“They knocked stuff off the walls!”

“I’m sure they did,” Doug said.  “I need to check with Arie,” he said, noticing that the lights were off.  “Did you shut off the lights?”

“No. I just hopped out of bed! What’s happening?”

“I have no idea. But I’m hoping to find out,” Doug said, picking up a hand-held CB radio. “Where are the batteries?”

“Second drawer,” Julie answered, pulling a wool wrap around her.

Doug fumbled with the battery pack for the radio, finally getting it loaded correctly, turned it on, tuned to the appropriate frequency, and was greeted by Arie’s calm voice.

“Fifty-seven here,” Doug answered.

“Kom binnenkort,” Arie replied in Dutch. ‘Come soon.’

“You OK by yourself?” Doug asked Julie.

“I should be.  Should I block off the windows?” she asked. They had room-darkening inside shutters, in addition to the heavy curtains.

“Might not be a bad idea. I have no idea what’s going on. There’s nothing on the AM band, and not much on the scanner. Maybe Arie knows something.”

“Don’t waste time. Just bring that wood carrier inside. I’ll go get dressed.”  Doug didn’t realize he had dropped the wood on the back porch.

A few minutes later, Doug pulled his old Dodge truck out of a smallish garage, dropping it into four-wheel-drive just to make it up the small incline in the driveway. Roeland had replaced a broken solenoid in the drivetrain after the truck had broken down way back in January, and surprised both Doug and Julie when they moved into the cabin with the newly functioning pickup. They both thought the truck had been sent to the boneyard.

The drive over to Arie and Maria’s was downright treacherous.  The ice on the packed snow was more suited to a bobsled run than a farm road.  Doug kept the truck lights turned off as he drove over.  As he left the truck near Arie’s equipment shed, he felt the rumble of the low-flying jets once more. This time, he had a better view, not blocked by overhead trees.

Four jets, two-by-two, passed over the trees to the west, and banked northeast toward Des Moines. Normally, some lights on the wings would be flashing…these had none. The aircraft weren’t of a familiar type to Doug, either. They were too far away to see any markings, but the shape was wrong.  They resembled an F-16, but the wings seemed too large. All four appeared to be carrying missiles and wing tanks.

“You’ve had a good look, ja?” Arie said, handing Doug a mug of tea.  “What do you think?”

“Not ours,” Doug replied.

“French. Come inside now,” Arie said. “How’s our Julie?”

“Little one kept her up a fair amount last night.  She’s fine though.”

“Don’t let her over-do. No more risks for her,” Arie said, referring to some serious pain that Julie had experienced a week before, working on her feet for many hours a day. They stepped through the door of the equipment shed into the battery-lit room.  Two-dozen men stood inside, looking at a large map on the wall.

“Good morning, Doug,” Roeland said, coming in just behind him.  He was in his deputy sheriff’s uniform, which was far too clean, all things considered.

“Morning. What’s going on?” he asked.

“That is the question of the day,” Jake answered.  “Now that we’re all here, let’s get started.”

Doug hopped up on one of the workbenches on the side wall, looking over the map of the region.

“This morning we were introduced to part of the S.A.’s air force.  Those were French-built Dussault Rafale fighters. Imported two weeks ago according to our intel, brought into Canada on freighters with container ships of spares and armament.  From what we understand, there are two dozen of those in Des Moines at present, with around sixty overall in North America.” No one spoke.

“What else can we expect?” Doug asked.

“Good question, and we have part of an answer. While the Navy has been otherwise occupied in parts of the world, numerous freighters have been making more-or-less normal schedules on the East Coast. Some of the evac ships from Europe were stopped and searched, and numerous passengers kept aboard while others were allowed to enter the U.S. Many of the freighters were container ships, with containers sent to various major cities under Federal protection.  Sources in Ohio and Pennsylvania have confirmed that those containers held military equipment.  Five roll-on, roll-off ships docked in Philadelphia and New York while the New Republic celebrated.  At least ten other ships carrying what we believe to be main battle tanks arrived in New Republic ports and then shipped that equipment to several staging areas.”

“French, too?” someone asked.

“French LeClercs, equipped for urban warfare. German Leopard 2A variants, Russian T-72’s and T-90 variants,” Jake said. “The vast majority of those came into Free Canada. From what we have gathered, there may be a thousand tanks under S.A. command.”  

Someone let out a low, descending whistle.“Does the United States know about this?” another voice asked.

“They’ve been given information. We have no idea if they believe it or not,” Jake replied. 

“One minute, Jake, if you would,” Doug asked.

“Sure, Doug. What’s on your mind?”

“Who runs them?”

“Who runs…” Jake began.

“Tank crews. Who drives? Who’s the tank commander? It’s not like you’re going to take some kid off the street and drop them into these and expect them to know what they’re doing, right?”

“We believe that the S.A. has trained a number of crews virtually. With tank simulators,” Jake said. Someone else laughed.

“Gary, what’s on your mind?”  Jake asked.

“Tanks aren’t video games,” the man answered.  “I drove an Abrams back in the day, against T-72’s and T-80’s.  There isn’t any substitute for actual seat time inside any of them. Furthermore, against an A-10 or any of the newer drones, you don’t have a chance unless you have air superiority, which I doubt the S.A. can create.”

“Point taken,” Jake said. “But none of that will stop them from creating a whole lot of chaos.”

“One more thing,” Doug said. “I’d wager that ammunition isn’t common between those tanks, other than maybe the Russian ones, right?”

“Correct, from what we know,” Jake replied.

“Wouldn’t it be fun, to be able to get into the S.A. supply channels, and send the French ammunition to a Russian tank division?” Many of the men chuckled at Doug’s suggestion.

“There’s gotta be a way to get into their organizational system and screw with them,” Doug said. “Ten minutes of database access and you’re there.”

“We will take that under advisement,” Jake said with a smile. “I know just the guy.”