Twilight

 

Chapter 25 - Peace

 

 

Bitterroot Canyon

Colorado

 

Tom stayed out of sight near the compound gate. As he watched, Blackhawks landed four squads in quick succession and roared out of the area. As each new group landed, the situation on the ground became more and more stable. Two squads of soldiers secured the prisoners with plastic handcuffs while the other two began clearing the house room by room and sweeping the grounds.

 

The ear bud of Tom’s head set crackled to life, “This is Barlow: be advised that there are highly volatile chemicals in the barn. Stay clear. A HAZ-MAT team is en route.”

 

Gaddis’ voice came over the command net and asked, “Does anyone know whose property this is?”

 

Tom answered, “I’m by the mail box. I’ll check.”

 

He opened the mail box and pulled out a pile of mail and read the first one, “The Honorable Oliver Dunbar.”

 

Barlow said, “What have we stepped into here Boss? Dunbar is a judge on the US District Court in Denver.”

 

Gaddis said, “I have already called the Feds in on this. We want to keep the local sheriffs office out of it until we know how badly they are compromised.“

 

Tom said, “Hey boss, I’ve got an idea for you.”

 

Gaddis said, “Let’s hear it.”

 

Tom said, “Play the martial law card on these mutts. Tell them their asses is ours, they don’t get no stinking lawyer and we’re going to form a firing squad and settle up right here. While they are crapping their pants, they’ll try to out do each other telling us everything that they know.”

 

Barlow said, “Technically it’s true. They took up arms against military authorities during war time. We can line them up and shoot the whole stinking bunch right here.”

 

Gaddis said, “I like it. I’m going to coordinate with the other teams and we’ll see how it plays.”

 

 

United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)

Offutt Air Force Base

Omaha, Nebraska

 

General Jacob’s team cheered as they watched the big Delta IV rocket take off flawlessly from Vandenberg over the flight monitor. In a little over an hour the brand new satellite would, less two thirds of its fuel for its maneuvering jets, be in position to replace the big Chinese satellite that had been designated Redbird that distributed television signals across the huge country.

 

Usually the television satellite launches were the biggest headaches. With hundreds of competing channels and networks, the programming on the carrier satellites changed constantly. It wasn’t the case on this shot. Jacobs had been shocked to discover that the big media companies jumped at the chance for exposure in the Chinese market. All of them had agreed to donate their programming free of charge so that it could be beamed to a billion Chinese television sets. Even if this arrangement was only temporary, they hoped that it would whet the appetite of Chinese consumers for Western media.  He wondered if the Chinese would hate reality television as much as he did.

 

Jacobs raised his voice over the jubilant crowd in the command center and said, “All right people, we’ve still got to take down the Redbird. KKV team, what’s your status.”

 

The split team of two Air Force Officers and two civilian engineers controlling the KKV (Kinetic Kill Vehicle) was lead by a young Air Force Captain named Harris. He was huddled with his team over a bank of monitors having a discussion.  He looked to his teammates and they all nodded.

 

He said, “The KKV is coming around for a sling-shot maneuver to get up to altitude to engage the target.  We’re flying in from the opposite direction as the target so our closing velocity will be somewhere around 60,000 miles per hour. Our plan is to hit the target in its gyros so it will tumble out of orbit and not leave a bunch of space junk behind.”

 

Jacobs said, “That’s outstanding. How soon can you intercept Redbird?”

 

Harris replied, “We’ll have our first intercept window in thirty-five minutes. If we miss, we can be back around in another twenty-eight minutes.”

 

Jacobs said, “Don’t miss. We need that orbit cleared pronto. Our satellite will be on station in an hour forty-five minutes.”

 

 

Bitterroot Canyon

Colorado

 

There was some excitement as a squad of newly arrived Guardsmen flushed a few die-hard gang members out of the mansion. Two of the idiots decided to hide in an upstairs bedroom and fire on the soldiers. After a short burst of gunfire, they were brought out feet-first and dumped on the front lawn in full view of the prisoners.

 

The squad sweeping the grounds discovered what appeared to be several shallow graves behind the house. They reported the suspected graves and left them alone for the forensics people. No one entered the barn but from the chemicals and the smell, there was no doubt that a massive meth lab was inside.

 

Barlow’s voice came over the squad frequency, “This looks a lot like what was going on in Columbia a few years ago. Police were being bribed and the guys that didn’t play ball were killed. Judges that sent cartel members to prison… I’m guessing that the gang used the confusion caused by martial law and the plagues for retaliation.”

 

Young said, “You did a tour as an advisor in Columbia didn’t you Sarge?”

 

“Yeah. It was a mess. It’s hard to keep a police force together that is paying chump change when the cartel people can pay them fifty or a hundred grand just to play dumb.”

 

Gaddis’ voice broke in to the squad frequency, “Barlow, I need you and your medic Rials to get back to your chopper. Alford is in distress and needs to get to a hospital ASAP. The LZ is the softball field across the highway.”

 

Tom’s blood ran cold. He knew from being around his Mom in emergency medicine that concussions could go sour very quickly. He saw Barlow and Rials taking off in a sprint toward the waiting chopper. He keyed his mike and said, “Colonel, I’m going with them.” He shouldered his rifle and took off behind Barlow.

 

It was a short run down the driveway through a thick pine grove. As soon as Tom got to the main road, he could see three of the sleek Blackhawks sitting on and around the old softball field. Tom guessed right that the one spooling up to take off was Powell’s bird.

 

When Tom saw Brad he was shocked. His eyes were wild with pain and confusion. He was being restrained by Barlow and Rials and he was babbling incoherently as the Blackhawk lifted off.

 

Tom got close to him and said, “Brad, Brad! Look at me buddy. Relax. We’re going to take care of you.”

 

Brad looked at Tom and nodded, he grabbed Tom’s arm looking around wildly and said, “Dishwater, grapefruit… Disneyland.” He looked very frustrated like he was fighting to find the right words.

 

Tom said, “Hang on buddy. We’re going to take care of you. Let’s sit down and put on our seatbelts.”

 

Brad latched on to his arm and allowed Tom to fasten his seatbelt and said, “Arrive alive.”

 

“That’s the plan.”

 

Tom put on one of the headsets connected to the Blackhawks intercom and asked, “Where are we going?”

 

Powell said, “We don’t want to take him to Denver or Sierra Hotel. There’s too much smallpox there. Eagle Rock is swamped with evacuees and lots of trauma cases.”

 

Tom said, “Let’s take him to Penrose in Colorado Springs. My Mom is chief of trauma there and they’ve got everything he’ll need.”

 

Powell said, “Penrose it is. I fly in and out of there all the time.”

 

Rials said over the intercom, “Keep him calm Tom. With his aphasia and anisocoria I think that he’s got an epidural hematoma and is causing pressure to his brain. He’s got to stay calm and keep his blood pressure down.”

 

Tom said, “You mentioned Disneyland. How about Disneyworld. Ever been there?”

 

Brad shook his head.

 

“Well, when we get you fixed up, what you say we blow off the war and go to Florida? You, me, the beach…”

 

Brad interrupted, “Disneyworld!?”

 

“Yeah, Disneyworld. We can got to Daytona Beach catch some rays and go hang with Mickey and Goofy.”

 

Brad slurred, ”You’re goofy.” and slumped over in his seat unconscious.

 

Tom held him upright and said, “Rials, what’s happening?”

 

Rials took his vitals and said, “He’s unconscious which is normal for his condition. Hold him still and keep him from bumping around. You did really well talking to him. You got him focused enough to make a little sense. Have you ever had a grandparent or relative with a stroke? Aphasia usually freaks people out.”

 

Tom said, “I’ve heard about it but never seen it. I just talked to him like I talked to my little brother when we would have a thunder storm and he would hide in his closet.”

 

Barlow laughed and said, “You are full of surprises kid.”

 

Powell said, “I just talked to Penrose. They are expecting us. We’re just a few minutes out.”

 

Rials and Barlow pulled out a stretcher while Tom held Brad still. Once the stretcher was latched down, the three of them gently laid him down and secured him with straps. Even unconscious, Brad’s held his grip on Tom’s arm and it took some work to pry himself lose. By the time they had Brad secure, they were on final approach to Penrose.

 

Powell said, “I’m going to land and go. I can’t tie up their heliport. Good luck guys.”

 

Barlow took the head of the stretcher, Tom took the left side and Rials stood at the foot. They felt the big helicopter slowing, descending and finally landing with a light thump.

 

Rials slid the side door open and they gently took Brad out and onto the roof top heliport.

 

It was the first time since the beginning of all this that Tom had seen his home town. It had only been a couple of weeks but it seemed like a lot longer.

 

As they moved Brad to the emergency entrance, Powell took off and roared away. Hospital staffers took over and Rials stayed with Brad telling them his vitals.

 

Barlow and Tom wandered in and were directed toward the Emergency Room’s waiting area where they got a few odd looks.

 

Tom realized that he was still muddy and damp from crawling around in the creek.

 

Barlow got a cup of coffee and said, “I’ve got to report in. Relax. We’re probably going to be here for a while.”

 

While Barlow talked on his cell phone, Tom sat down and started watching the all-news channel that the Emergency Room television set was playing.

 

 

Kinetic Kill Vehicle

22,000 Miles above the Western Pacific

 

The KKV approached the Redbird at a relative closing speed of over 20,000 miles per hour.

 

As soon as the KKV’s sensors locked on the target, the robotic craft immediately executed its programmed attack run. It rolled over using its gyros to unmask its attack sensors and weapons. A powerful suite of infra-red, laser and radar sensors locked on to the target and established a precise lock. The targeting program further reduced the target to a precise point on the target satellite: its primary gyros and attitude control jets.

 

The KKV’s master attack computer, satisfied that a positive target lock had been achieved, fired a six inch long tungsten rod at the target with tightly compressed spring and a high pressure jet of carbon dioxide.

 

The tungsten rod jumped out of the launch tube at a modest velocity but with a high relative speed on the target. In less than the blink of an eye the rod closed the distance to the target and smashed into the Redbird’s gyros and attitude control jet assembly. The velocity of the impact caused the rod and the impact point to liquefy and vaporize on contact burning a hole through the satellite and spraying the delicate internal components with molten metal. Redbird was dead.

 

The kinetic energy of the impact caused the Redbird to begin spinning on all three axes. With the failure of her gyros and stabilizer jets she was doomed to fall slowly toward the upper atmosphere and plunge to her fiery death over a period of the next few months.  

 

 

Penrose Hospital Trauma Center

Colorado Springs, CO

 

Tom found a comfortable chair and collapsed in front of the television. It had been a while since he had a chance to watch the news and catch up with what was going on. Between a segment on the surrender of North Korea and the evacuation of San Diego an interesting public service announcement appeared.

 

…I heard a disturbing report about hate crimes directed at Asian-Americans. I know that we’ve all been through a lot lately. It is completely understandable that people are angry and frustrated. Look- join the Guard, volunteer with the Red Cross- do something positive. Don’t take the law in your own hands. Don’t be part of the problem- be part of the solution.

 

Tom sank into his seat praying that nobody recognized him. Those public affairs types move fast.

 

Barlow returned to the waiting room and sat down beside Tom. He pocketed his cell phone and said, “Gaddis says that the Feds have taken over the Bitterroot Canyon crime scene and the one over in San Isabel National Forest. We can expect some Feds to come by and take our statement.”

 

Rials walked in and sat down. He looked tired and a bit subdued.

 

Barlow asked, “How is Alford doing?”

 

Rials said, “He’s in surgery now. I’ve got to tell you that head injuries are very tricky. He could wake up just fine, brain dead or anywhere in between.”

 

Tom asked, “How long until we know?”

Rials said, “It could be a while but he’s young, fit and I think we took care of it in time. I think he’s going to be fine.”

 

Tom said, “Brad never mentioned his family. Is there someone we should call?”

 

Barlow said, “Brad’s family is a sore spot for him. He is from a big fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah and they bounced him when he turned eighteen. He joined up the same week, did two years active duty and has been going to college, working and keeping up his points in the reserves.”

 

Tom said, “You mean they just dumped him?”

 

Rials said, “It’s a big problem in Utah but its here in Colorado too. The press calls them the Lost Boys. They are from a big cult of fundamentalist Mormon polygamist. When young men become competition to the older men who want more and usually younger wives, the cult will send them packing. They’ll use any excuse to get rid of them.”

 

Barlow said, “Brad is luckier than most. He had enough schooling to pass the GED. That cult doesn’t allow their children to go to public schools.”

 

Tom looked at his teammates incredulously and said, “It’s hard for me to believe that his family would just cut him lose. He’s been so nice to us and good with the kids.”

 

Barlow said, “He hasn’t always been that way. In fact I would say that this assignment sort of brought him back to life after Iraq.”

 

Tom said, “Brad was in Iraq?”

 

Barlow nodded. “That skinny kid owns a Silver Star and a DSC and they don’t just give those away.”

 

*          *          *

 

Time and fatigue caught up with Tom. He nodded off to sleep in the overstuffed chair in the hospital waiting room. His mother woke him up with some clothes and told him that Brad was doing well so far. He went into an office and changed out of his muddy BDUs and into some faded Levis and a polo shirt.

 

He went back to the waiting room just in time to catch President McMahan’s long awaited speech. He sat down beside Barlow and Rials to listen.

 

When the President approached the dais, he looked tired and haggard. He seemed a step slower than he usually appeared but confident and resolute despite the black circles around his eyes.  It took McMahan forty-five minutes to tell the entire story. At each critical point he provided the evidence to validate its veracity.

 

In conclusion, McMahan said, “The United States and the Peoples Republic of China have both been the victims of a conspiracy hatched by a powerful faction of Chinese military officers. It is obvious that they intended to destroy the United States and provoke massive retaliation that would destroy the Peoples Republic in its current form. In fact Zhao’s faction leaked the position and even the design of the command bunker where the PRC’s civilian leadership would gather during a national emergency. We expect that their plan was to take over once that leadership was eliminated.”

 

“We have been thrust into a war by genocidal madmen that managed to manipulate others into killing millions. It was their intent to kill billions. I say its time to cut the puppet master’s strings. We must stop this now before the war takes on a life of its own and spins out of control.”

 

“The United States proposes an immediate ceasefire. We expect and require the Peoples Republic to stay out of North Korea and Taiwan. Any hostilities will violate this temporary ceasefire. Monday we invite the Peoples Republic to join us in Copenhagen to negotiate a permanent peace agreement. “

 

Nothing further could be heard of the President’s remarks. The waiting room erupted with cheering. People were dancing, singing and hugging complete strangers.

 

Tom looked at Barlow and asked, “Is it over?”

 

Barlow said, “We’ve still got one hell of a mess to clean up but it sure looks that way.”

 

Tom sighed and said, “Thank God.”

 

Rials said, “Amen to that.”

 

*          *          *

 

Jimmy set up the portable DVD player and set it to play.

 

Brad asked, “What is it?”

 

Tom said, “It’s a classic. It’s about a confused skunk that is in love with a black cat with a white stripe down her back.”

 

Brad said, “I can see how that kind of romance could get complicated.”

 

Minutes later the three young men were howling with laughter as Pepe LePew hopped along chasing the mortified kitty.

 

There was a knock and Jimmy turned around and opened the door. There was a mountain of a man wearing a dark suit, an ill concealed weapon in a shoulder holster and wearing an earpiece.

 

Jimmy hit pause on the DVD player and said, “Can we help you?”

 

The man smiled and stood aside saying something in a concealed microphone. President McMahan walked into Brad’s hospital room.

 

All three boys were stunned speechless.

 

The President said, “I was in Denver at the FEMA command center and insisted on making a side trip to meet the famous Ross brothers. “

 

He reached out and shook Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy couldn’t decide to stand or sit and just got a big goofy smile on his face.

 

The President said, “How is the leg Jimmy?”

 

Jimmy replied, “I’m not ready to run a marathon but I don’t need the crutches anymore.”

 

He moved to Brad’s bedside and said, “How are you doing soldier?”

 

Brad said, “I’m fine. They tell me I’ll be out of here in a day or so.”

 

The President shook his hand and said, “That’s good.”

 

Finally he approached Tom and shook his hand. “I saw your be a part of the solution public service spot and then I spent a half hour hearing about your exploits during the crisis. Frankly, I’m astonished and proud of what you have been able to accomplish. I’d venture to say that the whole state and a big part of the country are proud of you.”

 

Tom replied, “Thank you Mr. President. I think that you did a pretty good job yourself.”

 

The President smiled and said, “Thanks Tom. Some people are still screaming that I’m a traitor for not nuking China to the bedrock but I think that what we were able to accomplish will lead to lasting peace. We’ve still got a lot of work to do and that’s why I wanted to speak with you.”

 

”The be a part of the solution comment was just what the nation needed to hear at just the right time. It has been the most successful public service announcement in history. We’ve had two and a half million volunteers ranging in age from teens to retirees to help with the clean up of Phoenix and San Diego. I would like for you to be a part of that. It’s going to take training for the volunteers to use the equipment to safely clean up the fall-out but it looks like we have the manpower to do it. We would like for you to be a part of our training effort.”

 

Tom said, “I’m honored and I accept sir but after everything that we’ve been through, we would like to take a week or so off first.”

 

The President said, “That’s perfectly understandable. We’re just getting organized now. I’m glad to have you on the team. I’ve got to get back to work. We’ve got a country to put back together.”

 

Tom said, “We will get it done Mr. President.”

 

After the President left the room, Tom added, “but first, we’re going to Disneyworld.”

 

 

Eagle Rock

 

The evacuees kept coming at a steady pace but now they weren’t as critical. In fact most weren’t injured at all and were being processed for relocation. They had finally turned the corner and almost all of them were surviving now. In fact Colonel Boudreau had been ordered to start making plans to move to the FEMA command center at Flagstaff.

 

He was sitting and staring at his meal when his cell phone rang. He didn’t recognize the caller-id.

 

He answered, “Boudreau.”

 

There was a pause at the other end of the line, “Dad?”

 

The Colonel was stunned. Were the long hours and days without sleep catching up with him? He said cautiously, “Remy, is that you.”

 

“Yes Dad it’s me!”

 

“What happened to you?”

 

Remy said, “I got dumped in the Sea of Japan and picked up by a Japanese fisherman that didn’t speak a word of English. I’m back in Japan now and wanted to let you know that I’m OK.”

 

The Colonel said, “It’s so good to hear your voice. I got the word that you were missing the day before yesterday.”

 

“That’s why I called. I wanted to tell you myself.”

 

“It’s all over. Come home son.”

 


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