Friday, November 4, 2016

Dark Winter: Chapter 16

The London Market opened with a crash this morning as stock prices plunged during a frantic selloff triggered by the announcement that Barkley’s would not be opening it’s doors today.  A similar disaster is expected to befall Wall Street today when the bell rings...

...this one is brutal folks.  It’s making 2008 look like a gentle price correction.  There is now some concern that Chase will not be opening it’s doors this morning either...

-CNBC Squawk Box

“Brandon, I have a vaccine.  If you don’t call me back immediately, I will destroy it.  Have a nice day,”  General Darlene Sertorio hung up.

A little dangerous but there are no low risk options, at this point, she thought to herself.

On to other business.  “John, why the hell didn’t you get any sleep?” General Sertorio chided, her son in law  quietly.  “You know better.”  In any live operation, sleep was the most critically valuable resource there was.

The meeting wasn’t under way yet. There was some general milling around the Keurig . A few complaints were being muttered that the only coffee thimbles on the rack beside it featured  at the moment was something with raspberries and chocolate truffles, which nobody thought was appropriate first thing in the morning.  There were general complaints about, when were they going to get a new shipment of this or that in?

Maybe in about a ten years, Sertorio estimated.

Some eyes were being rubbed, some chins were being scratched, no one was shuffling too far away from the long table at Recruiting Station Lansing, MI.  

This get together was something very unusual. The officers from Navy Recruiting Station Lansing were on nodding terms with their Marine Corps counterparts but that was it.  They had never set foot in their offices.

It was enemy territory. It just wasn’t done.   

A few Navy men had gone out of their way to give John a back pat and well done for yesterday.  It was only Progressives that were calling Zombies the Afflicted at this point.  John nodded in awkward thanks to them.

The Navy was a little surprised that a Marine Corps General had called for this pow wow.  But she was a General so refusing to show up...well, it just wasn’t done either.  No matter what kind of political trouble she was in, she still appeared to be in charge.  Obviously no one had relieved or replaced her.

“I got about an hour of the good stuff and about two more of junk sleep,” John said to her.

“Around fourteen hundred (2 pm) today I expect you get some rack time.  There won’t be anything more you can do at that point, that can’t be put off until tomorrow.  We are looking at long nights after that.  I need you sharp, John.”

“Aye Ma’am,” John replied with sleepy perfunction. She speared him with her gaze for a moment before he enunciated , “Aye...Ma’am.”  with borderline insubordination.  But she was treating him more like family than as a subordinate.  In any case a lot of military discipline was either going to be meaningless in a few days. Or perhaps it would mean everything.

Sertorio nodded, then raised her voice, “Gentlemen, let's get started.”

Everyone quickly found their seats.

“First of all, thank you, Commander Reynolds, for joining us here this morning.”

A short fireplug of a man with the silver oak leaves of a navy Commander on his collar, nodded in greeting. “Thank you, Ma’am, happy to be here,”  Frank Reynolds said with small glittering eyes and a professional good cheer.  Whether or not he was actually happy to be there was a good question that was not going to be answered.

“As well as the rest of your command,”  she nodded to a group of men in Navy khaki - a few officers and few senior Chiefs.  All of them looking a little uncomfortable in this alien room.

Well, here it is, Sertorio thought to herself.  The fantasies of America’s elite leadership had failed and it was time to start Operation Seldon.

“Gentlemen, as you are aware, due to a national emergency recruiting operations are being scaled back dramatically.”

Nods around the table.  They all knew it.  The Army was still running at full tilt.  So was the Air Force, but that was just to mark time.  The three other services had noticed that the Marines had all but vanished from the Recruiting Market and those few left manning the empty Recruiting Stations weren’t talking.

“Despite an unprecedented political disruption.” Read: having two American Presidents at the same time.  “Your new orders should be coming through this morning,” Sertorio at least hoped they would.  God knows what was going on in the Pentagon right now.  At the moment, both Presidents were demanding that the military take sides.

The military was trying to duck it, but there was an upward limit to how long it could do that.  Both Presidents had assembled their own separate legislatures.  President Van Dijk(Omaha) had enough Representatives for a House Quorum.  (Not) President O’Hara (Washington) had enough for a Senate.  Both had confirmed that the current president was mentally unfit..  However, only Omaha had held a coronation for its chief executive.  

O’Hara was still, technically, just the Secretary of State.  In the 19th century the function of that job was a lot closer to Prime Minister of the United States.  It sure as hell wasn’t that now, but national memories are long and the title still held a certain autocratus. .

The matter would be decided by a Supreme Court that was currently split four to four.

Hopefully, some staff drone will still be shuffling messages out by sheer reflex.  “Combined Joint Task Force 491 was created to secure and protect the research on ///MAGICDRUG/// being conducted at Michigan State University’s Genetics Lab.  This research, despite what is being said in public, is the only hope of stopping SOD.” She repeated slowly, “The only hope, gentlemen.”
“This was supposed to be a very temporary arrangement until research materials and personnel could be moved to an appropriate Center for Disease Control facility.” Sertorio had been able to play around with the wording a bit there.  It gave her the time she needed.

“Gentlemen, such transference is now impossible, due to a security situation that is now, bluntly, spiraling out of control,” she stated coldly.

There it was.  They had all suspected it.  Even if they had been getting nothing but a stream of constant reassurance from both Washington and Omaha that everything was completely and absolutely under control, they knew it wasn’t.  However, so long as everyone was saying everything was under control, it meant that the political overlords were still at least trying.

The fact that someone in the know was giving them the, ‘I guess we’re fucked speech’ was kind of a game changer.  

The Navy men looked back and forth amongst themselves for a bit, then looked across the table with mild accusation at their opposite numbers, as if to say, how long were you going to be playing, ‘my little secret?’ We’ve got families to think about.

“As of now,” Sertorio continued,  “Naval Recruiting Station Lansing has been rolled into CJTF 491. As such it is now time to read you in.  This briefing is classified Top Secret (Compartmentalized Information).”

Captain Reynolds looked at his side of the table.  “Phones off and on the table.”

“Good notion, sir.”  John nodded at his own men who immediately took the hint.  Top Anguiano grabbed a box and quickly went around the table collecting them.  Then took the box out of the room.  These days you never knew if a cell phone was really off or not.

Sertorio looked over at the Navy men.  They were the real weak link in her plan.  They didn’t have to do that much, but they would have to be the ones to do it.  Her lovely boys could not.

“Very well Ma’am,” Frank gave the rather provisional, ‘very well’.  He wanted to see orders, before he got court martialed for following hers.   

“Here is the situation we now face,”  Sertorio began.  “We had assumed that SOD’s current rate of contagion could be contained using extraordinary measures under the ///General Emergency Order/// “  Unsurprisingly, the administration got side tracked by the prospect of upending all the bits of the constitution they don’t like to protect the all mighty dollar.  “The problem is that with the threat of interstate travel restrictions to contain SOD, we seem to have hit an unexpected problem with the economy.”  

“Quite simply the United States has a credit crisis the size of the Yellowstone super caldera.  It has for years.  It has gotten worse recently.”  No point in assigning blame.  Military men tend toward the conservative but that was never a guarantee.  She knew John’s XO Captain Poon was very much a staunch Democrat.   “One of the reasons that travel restrictions have not been imposed,” aside from denial and outright cowardice she thought, “was that the economy would take too hard of a hit.  The problem is that since everyone is anticipating travel restrictions anyway, the Doomsday Deflationary Recession has arrived early by about fifteen years.”

Sertorio noticed one of Frank’s Lieutenants was visibly agitating to speak so she point at him, “go”

“With all due respect, Ma’am and if I may say so. So what?” the  Lieutenant said, a little defensively.  “ We’ve been through recessions before.”
Hmm, that one does not react to changes well, Sertorio filed that assessment of Lieutenant (Senior Grade) Shaw.  He wasn’t really hostile, she decided, he just didn’t roll with the punches.

“True enough. This time I’m afraid it is quite a bit different.  China owns or rather has owned vast amounts of U.S. bonds and they have begun selling our paper at fire sale prices.  They are clearly acting on the assumption that the US dollar is going to be worthless quite soon.  They are correct on this point, by the way.  Past a certain point in the beginning of February SOD will be at full penetration and the economy is going to slow down too much to support our national debt schedule.”  That wouldn’t have been the end of the dollar by itself, but everyone in the global financial community knew that this administration would react by printing gigatons of money.

“They were just going to  let the Dollar collapse, Ma’am?” Captain Poon’s perpetual scowl entrenched itself, he clearly didn’t want to believe it.

“Mandatory and frankly draconian wage and price controls were going to be announced after New Year’s. They didn’t want to slow down holiday shopping.”  Sertorio managed not to let her eyes roll.  She was following a party line she didn’t believe in, even though she had been forced to write big chunks of it herself. She had gone with what she thought the administration would find minimally acceptable even though it was going to be far too little and come far too late for the tiny amount of  good that it would do. “The Chinese figured it out and acted,” her voice clearly wasn’t blaming anyone at all.  Certainly, no one in the administration. Either one of them.

“Regardless, gentlemen, however it happened, this is not the purview of the Department of Defense.  We simply have to deal with the aftermath of this event as best we can.”

She was pleased to see them straighten themselves up.  That’s better, my boys. Ma will fix everything, I promise.

“Gentlemen, the question now before us is, how to best do we conduct our respective missions given the resources available?  That mission being, secure and maintain the Kerensky research so that it will move it forward.”

Being the senior officer in the room, Reynolds felt he should speak first, “Not that I like admitting this, but the Marine Corps seems to have the first one well in hand.”  He gave a smile and a bit of shrug, “I don’t see what more my personnel can bring to the university security detail.”

“Well, if you would prefer to have your command reassigned to local Domestic Relief Operations?” Sertorio began ominously.  If you want to be handing out one MRE per person per day on 8 Mile in Detroit.  If you want to be the one banging on doors in Oscoda County demanding that the local hillbillies turn over their guns.  If you want your boys driving for eighteen hours a day in relief convoys surrounded by starving people?

Frank half laughed, while raising his hands in surrender, “No, no, Ma’am.  I wasn’t saying that! But I am wondering what you have in mind for us?”  He asked.

“The problem that we are facing at the moment is that the security situation is going to degrade rapidly.  Local and State Police Forces are, at this point, skeletal due to direct contact with SOD.  So how do we handle it?  Entrench in place?”

John spoke for the first time. “It’s physically possible to secure the necessary work buildings.  As well as one or two of the older dormitories.  Those older ones especially can be fortified easily enough.  We can, if things get really dicey, commute between them and the labs using the University’s steam tunnels.  That’s easily doable as well.  The problem as I see it, is supply.”

Captain Poon added, “I have to agree.  The three B’s are going to be an issue.”  Beans, Bullets and Bandaids.  No army, no matter how small, could do without them.

“Well, if we are that important, shouldn’t we have priority?”  The Navy’s operations officer Lt (Junior Grade) Palmer spoke up.

“That, I’m afraid, is the real issue here,”  John said rising to feet.  Sertorio stepped back rather pleased with his initiative and let him take her place.  “Generally speaking the question is, will there be anyone out there who can send us supplies?”

“Well, surely an air drop if nothing else...” Shaw started to interject.

“What if there is no United States?” John asked a suddenly silent room.

John’s question was a chargeable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A serving officer of the United States military never asks that question.  Never thinks that question.  His oath to the constitution is a pledge to make sure that a world without the United States never comes into existence.

It was a thing that you were literally not allowed to think about.

“Okay, now that I have your attention,” John added, to Sertorio approval.   “SOD combined with a major economic downturn,”  Meaning: complete financial collapse.  “plus the political...complications, may make any kind of resupply extremely difficult.  The fact is that the United States military runs on United States dollars.  There is a very real possibility that those are about to become worthless.  Enough so that we will have to plan accordingly.”  

There was just a little bit of relief around the table.  General Sertorio’ fair haired boy was not, in fact, a raving revolutionary.  That was good to know.  The military wasn’t in charge of the dollar.  If that crashed and burned it wasn’t their fault.

“So let’s break down the big problem into little ones that we can manage,”  John addressed the issue at hand.

“My first concern at the moment, John, is my recruits,” Commander Reynolds stated a little darkly.  

“Same boat here sir.  I definitely get that.” John said.  The first step of closing the sale was acknowledging an objection.  Not agreeing with it, just acknowledging it. He’d learned that much on recruiting duty.  

Sertorio decided to interject at that point.  “This one doesn’t leave the room..”  She paused a moment to let a little trepidation sink in.  “The poolees are about to be activated.”  That caused a worried sigh from around the table.

When a young man joined any branch of the military, he was, regardless of service, mentally tested, physically evaluated, and if found acceptable, sworn in.  Then they would go home for a period of time that could be anywhere from a few days to one year, until they shipped out to bootcamp.  But during that period of time they were legally in the Reserves.  Legally, they were soldiers.

“If I may speak freely.  What the hell are they going to be good for, Ma’am?” Lt. Palmer asked the obvious question.

“Slave labor,” Sertorio answered coldly.  That was pretty much what the administration viewed the entire military as being good for.  That was all they were worth to them.  Only good for slave labor if they were opting out of the college track.  Clearly the boys that chose to serve were completely beyond hope of redemption that education would offer them, so as far as the administration was concerned.  And therefore essentially worthless.

Someone was going to have load trucks.  They wouldn’t be very good at it and most of them would run off the first chance they got.  And probably end up being shot for it. Things were going to get very bad, very fast.

“Those that are scheduled to leave for recruit training proper will do so for as long as that remains possible,” Sertorio briefly wondered how long the flights would keep going.  Those boys would arguably be better off at MCRD San Diego.  Although they would have to shut that depot down soon enough and move out to Pendleton.  But how long would the airlines be running?  Past a certain point the government(s) would either stop all civilian air travel or it would shut itself down due to lack of fuel and spare parts.  Would the DOD try to bus the kids out at that point?  Maybe. Probably.   

It didn’t matter, her recruits weren’t leaving Michigan and neither would Reynolds’, although he didn’t know it, yet.

“In the meantime, we have to hold a big recruit roundup,” Sertorio said.  “John, I believe this Saturday was your command’s standard Pool Saturday?”

John nodded.  All the services held Poolee meetings once a month.  Primarily to figure out which kids were still excited about a life before the banners and who was thinking about quitting.  A couple of times a year they held a big pow wow for all the recruits in the state.

“I was going to hold the big winter meeting up at Camp Greyling in January.”  John had figured where this was heading.  

“Ours was this Saturday,”  Frank commented.  “What do you want us do with them once we have them?”  Frank had worked this much out as well.  “What are we going to be using as a receiving barracks?”

“One of the dorms at the college?”  Lt. Palmer had heard the Marines were doing something there.

Stupid question, Sertorio thought to herself.  There were better and more obvious choices available.  Is he trying to draw me out on that subject?  In which case, good boy, you get a toffee.

“A few, but only temporarily. It’s off mission, for that mission,” Sertorio said. “As some of you may know, the USS Ponce is being retired from service and will be converted to a museum in the port of Muskegon.  She is already there, now.  Conversion is supposed to start in the spring. She is to remain in the reserve fleet in the meantime, now however.”  She bit back a smile when she saw John’s eyes go wide with horror.  

The Ponce was sixty years old.  She was a noted tub within the Navy. During her last tour with the fleet she had to leave port a week early  so she wouldn’t be left behind.  In her life, she had seen duty as a troopship, a trainer for midshipmen, and a minesweeper.  Most recently she had been refitted as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, as sort of test bed to support forward deployed Special Operations, one with an actual death ray laser, no less.  Which, interestingly, was still aboard due to an ‘administrative oversight.’

“Currently, the Ponce has a skeleton crew aboard for the winter before she is decommissioned, in the spring.  More of a guard duty than anything else,” Sertorio said matter-of-factly.

“I’d heard about that, Ma’am,” Frank said with a tone voice that invited expansion on her part.  He had clearly thought that that was pretty weird at the time.  You just didn’t do things like that with a ship that was being taken out of service.  

Sertorio thought to herself, well that was true enough,.  The difference in this case being, I needed the Ponce for my CJTF.  So her time table got bumped up just a bit. A bigger problem is going to be the NorthStar.

“We were going to be doing our overnight poolee meeting there,” Palmer said.

“This Saturday?” Sertorio asked.


“Oh excellent!” Sertorio was delighted. “Frank, you will be Skippering the Ponce,” she said.

Frank Reynolds sat up a little straighter.  If there was one thing a Commander liked, it was being called Captain.  

“All right, we’ve got about six hundred kids on contract at this time of year.  More or less,” the Marine Operations Officer Lt. Silva spoke for the first time.  “How many do you have, Jeff?” he asked Lt. Palmer.

Palmer shot a quizzical look at Frank.  He still wasn’t sure about revealing family secrets to the Marine Corps. Frank nodded,  “go ahead and tell them.”
“We are sitting at about the same,”  Palmer admitted hesitantly.  Usually the Navy would have had a bigger pool than that.  However one of the reasons that Frank was sitting in Lansing in the first place was that his immediate predecessor had been Relieved for Cause.  That Cause being significant under-production.

“So, about twelve hundred, more-or-less.  At least it should leave us some elbow room,” Reynolds nodded.  The Ponce wasn’t the size of a Wasp class troopship but it would still leave them room to spare.

“Okay, Ma’am, that a puts roof over the recruits heads,”  Frank rubbed his eyes. “What about food in their mouths and clothes on their backs?” he asked.

“The first one should be less of a problem at the moment,” John said. “right now due to the credit crunch there is a shitload of food that's going go to rot soon on the loading docks.  Government paper is probably that only paper that’s any good right now.  They’ll be happy to get it.”

“All right, we can own it.  So how do we transport it?” Asked Poon.

“Civilian contractors should do, for the moment.  Independent truckers will be just as happy to see a government check as distribution centers,” Palmer inserted.

“And I suppose we can do working parties dockside, get the chow embarked,” John concluded.  

“Provisions covered, provisionally.”  Frank scowled at himself and wondered if he would ever talk like a normal human being again once he left the service.  “Next: uniforms.”

“And cold weather gear.”  John added.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sertorio said.  “I have something in mind.”

“Okay, Ma’am, Assemble the recruits.  Embark on the Ponce.  What then, Ma’am?”

“Await further and, hopefully, coherent orders,” Sertorio said.  No point in telling them everything just yet.

The stench of stale piss was penetrated every part of the jail. On top of that was body stink of old sweat.  Trying it’s best and failing to overpower all of it was the smell of industrial strength disinfectant.

The light was cheap and the bench she was shackled to was as cold as it was hard.  Her anus kept twitching painfully.  Still sore from the efficient if brusque cavity search.  

Some of the other women dressed in orange were occasionally making kiss-kiss faces at her in an attempt to amuse themselves.

Oksana, why do you do these things?  Breaking an Assistant Attorney General’s nose was,  without question, the stupidest thing you’ve ever done in your life.

The AG’s office would press hard for everything it could.  They would go for, and undoubtedly receive, the stiffest sentence possible.  She had violated the inviolate.  Some people were a lot less legal to assault than others.  

Braylon Medina was one of the new aristocrats.  His parents vacationed on, “the Vineyard.  His tribe would feel a need to make an example of her.

Now what happens?  She wondered.  How long until the legal system collapses completely?  What happens to us prisoners then?  How do you deal with useless mouths to feed when there is no food to be had?

“Hello, Aux,” said the heavy eyed and bleary voice of a friend.

“Hey, Chelle,” Aux answered without looking up.  “Haven’t seen you for a while.  Range practice still on for next week ?

Chelle and Aux competed together in the local women’s shooting team at various NRA events.  That had lead to a few all women’s hunting trips together with some other women.  It was nice to get away from the boys once in a great while, and not have to worry about what you look like in the morning.

“Probably not.”

“No, felons aren’t allowed to carry pistols, are they?.” Aux said rhetorically.

“You aren’t a felon yet, but you aren’t allowed to carry at your University.  That is one of the things Medina is charging you with.  As well as assault.”

“I don’t remember admitting to that.”

“At the time of his arrest Cahn was carrying two weapons belonging to you,” Chelle said.

“I will say nothing without the presence of my attorney.” Aux replied coldly.

Chelle clenched her eyes shut for a minute.  “Sorry, Aux.  I suppose I deserve that.  It’s hard to turn the cop off, these days.”

Aux looked up and chuckled, “Back in uniform I see...Captain?  Promotions are coming that quickly?”

“It helps to be connected,” Chelle shrugged.  She wasn’t happy about being back in uniform but the Commandant of the Michigan State Police had so ordered it.  All undercover operations were suspended.  The police needed to have as visible a presence as they could get now.  Nobody was saying it out loud, but they were down to about forty percent effectives, as of this morning. Some places were getting hit a lot harder due to Police desertion.  Detroit’s Metro was down to about twenty five percent effectives yesterday.  Who knew if anyone would show up today?  

“Which reminds me,”  A key flashed in Chelle’s hand as she leaned over Aux’s back.  There was a metallic crunch and a moment later Aux was rubbing her wrists.

She thought about thanking Chelle but decided to ask a more pertinent question instead.  “Am I being released?”

“Good question and I’m not sure what the answer is,”  Chelle replied.

“Can I at least get a pair of pants?”

A short time later,  They were arriving in front of a fairly large house on ///NAMEHERE street

“This way please, Aux.”  Chelle said as she lead Aux to the front door.

“Whose house is this and what the hell is going on?”  Aux began to dig in her heels.

“It’s Braylon Medina’s and I’m not sure, Hon.”  After a moment Chelle added.  “Technically, you are still a prisoner.  This is all way out of procedure, so stay behind me when we go in.”  Vasquez said that mostly to keep her friend cooperative.  She didn’t want Aux literally dragging her feet.  

The door was thick, heavy oak.  The kind of door that announced to the world that anyone who lived here was pretty damned important.  It had to weigh a ton and would be impossible to kick in.  It was, however, surrounded by ornate beautiful and thin glasswork on either side.   Which was broken by the latch.  There was a note on the door in a woman’s elegant handwriting that Chelle recognized.  

Please come in Captain Vasquez.

She and Aux found them in Braylon’s bedroom.  

Braylon was sitting white faced on a chair in his pajamas by a fireplace, surrounded by two of the Marines she had seen earlier that day at Spartan Stadium.   A tall, skinny white one and a short, but incredibly thickly built black one.  Naisbett and MacKay.  They were decked out in operator contractor tacticool battle rattle to include fivefifty cord bracelets, stupid little operator hats and sunglasses perched on top of the bills.

Braylon exhaled deeply in heartfelt and profound relief at the sight of her. “See, there she is safe and...uh...sound?”

Seated opposite of Braylon was the elegant and composed form of Charlotte Castillo.  “You armed your prisoner? Commendable innovation,” she said to Chelle.

Aux was carrying a Michigan State Police issue Mossberg 590 shotgun. “She was a low flight risk,” Chelle said stonily.

Charlotte nodded at that.  “I was reminding dear Braylon of the legal intricacies of having removed Exclusion Area Materials - in this case the Good Doctor - from the aforementioned Exclusion Area.  He was somewhat unfamiliar with the case law in question.

“Are you telling me that Spartan Stadium is now considered a Federal Exclusion area?

Chelle took deep breath.  Aux looked at her and asked suspiciously, “what are Exclusion Area Materials and how did I become one of them?”

Chelle answer slowly and carefully dredging up a long buried litany, “anyone caught attempting to remove materials from a Federal Exclusion Area is to be shot on sight.  There will be no attempt to capture such person or persons at all.  It is is permissible to accept their surrender if it is offered immediately but other wise use of deadly force is not just authorized but required.  If said person or persons are using  hostages as a human shield...shoot through the hostages.

“Good news!” Charlotte chirped. “This unpleasantness has been settled.  Braylon has agreed to drop the charges, I have that in writing by the way.  So you will be releasing Doctor Kerensky to me immediately.”

Braylon nodded his head so frantically that his jowls wobbled.

Chelle was wondering if her friend would be safer in jail,l but if there were no charges, there were no charges.

She looked over at Aux, “Are you okay about going with them?”

Aux thought about it for a moment and then almost ignored the question.  “Can I keep my shotgun?”

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