Wednesday, August 5, 2009

DEN OF THIEVES

“Look, I know this sounds far-fetched but it CAN be done.” The young man leaned against the wall of the tunnel everyone called the ‘office’. “The only parts I need are a varactor diode and three silicon transistors.”
“Well, let me just check my pockets” John Van Doss replied while he struggled with a boot. He was skeptical and he didn’t like the young radio tech. Van Doss wasn’t popular but he had organizational skills. A young woman watching the exchange looked at the radio tech.

“Gary- “She started.
“Listen, asshole.” The young man shot a look directly through Van Doss. His arms were now loosely at his sides and he wasn’t leaning on the wall. “When this crowd finds out you blew this opportunity, they’ll skin you and hang your hide out to dry,” He was pointing now “Especially when that bird up there is used to direct bunker busters into this hole.” His face reddened behind the scruffy beard and hair fell over his forehead.
The young woman looked at the ceiling and closed her eyes. Now her arms were crossed.

“Alright, get what you need for your little science project.” Van Doss huffed as his face reddened partly from the effort with his boots and partly because a techie 30 years his junior had just handed him his ass.

***
Marcy went through the motions of grooming and dressing. Hot water was a luxury in the mine. They could only burn a little fuel at a time and that was precious. She suddenly realized that someone probably gave up their share so she could bathe.
Oh God, she thought, will I ever stop crying?

At least the doctor wouldn’t keep her from Carl. She dried her eyes on a towel and managed to put on lip liner, the only makeup she had. She brushed out her long black hair and left it like that. Carl grasped her hair when he was in a fever-driven delirium and she didn’t think he would let go. She wanted him to have a touchstone with reality. Anything to keep him grounded. Anything to keep him here.
***
Miles away under a gray overcast, three men struggled with a freight sled loaded with electronic gear. The snow wasn’t the problem. Wind-driven banks of powdery snow left huge areas of rock and scrub grass bare. The large patches of bare ground slowed them down. They could only estimate the distance to their destination. The GPS system had been purposely degraded to the point of being useless to all but military applications. All three men turned to the sound of rotor blades. They rushed under a stand of spruce and stood stock still. A pair of Super Cobras flashed by and one of the men raised field glasses to see their markings.
“Loaded for bear and black as the ace of spades” he breathed.

***
“He’s supposed to have a fever” the old doctor rasped,”Can’t you people get it through your thick skulls? That’s the way your body fights off an infection.” She sounded exasperated. “The only thing we need to do is keep it below a certain temperature.” Van Doss looked at his feet. He couldn’t argue with the old harpy.
“What do you need?” He growled.

“I need 48 hours.” She turned back to the door. And help from somebody with a Hell of a lot more horsepower than you’ve got, she thought.
Van Doss turned back to the business of keeping the ‘miners’ ,as they called themselves, together in body and soul. Like herding cats, he thought. At last count there were 42 miners; most were over 21, people who by accident or design had come to the wilderness when the revolt started. He called it a revolt. The FEMA broadcasters called it rebellion. There appeared to be enough food, thank God. Most who came here had sense enough to bring something with them. Shelter in the mine wasn’t pleasant. It was always around 50 degrees F and damp. At least it was livable. Water was the biggest concern. There was a lift pump bringing up water from the deepest section of the mine, but it had to be filtered and treated before it was potable. Fuel was the next biggest concern. Even after three enterprising thieves winched two 2000-pound propane tanks on a tow truck bed and wound their way to the mine. The struggle to get the tanks inside the mine had to go down as one of the most heroic of the revolt. Still, they dare not burn much for two reasons: first because there was precious little of it and second because of the heat signature. No matter where they vented the burners, it would still bloom in infra red like a bonfire. The mechanically-minded had rigged a long chimney that cooled the burned gases in the mine before they were vented, but it was still risky. It was only a matter of time before they were found and some U.N. regiment was all over them like a bad rash. Van Doss cursed under his breath. He had to know what that fool in sick bay knew.
***
Carl was in free-fall. On his back, he looked up at the unreal blue of the sky at 12,000 feet. The air roared by his ears and the parachute harness straps fluttered against his sides. He watched the jump plane disappear into the cold January sky. When he arched his back to turn over, the ground was rushing up far faster than it ever had. Carl reached for the pilot chute. He was too late…
***

General Stephane Abrial looked out his NATO office window in Norfolk and watched the smoke cloud rise on the horizon. He had just received the report regarding the rebel attack on the United Nations armored column. He shook his head. An armored column and in broad daylight, within sight of his office! The Yankees seemed to have bottomless resources and a taste for blood. If this sort of thing was meant to demoralize his troops, it was working. Some were openly disobeying or passively carrying out orders. There were two cases of mutiny in the western U.S. this week. This entire fiasco was wrong. He knew it in his gut. He would ask to be relieved.

***
Stan Gilmore would probably never get over the stench. His office faced away from the camp and looked up at the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Still, the smell made its way through the heating system. They had run out of plastic coffin liners and had to burn bodies in the pits. Internees were told the vaccine had failed, but in fact, it had worked better than its designers had dreamed. The upside was the resources for the internees weren’t stretched so thin. More for everybody! That is, everybody still left alive. 400 yards behind Gilmore’s office med techs and camp monitors processed new detainees. As soon as they were drugged, vaccinated and acclimated they became internees. One of the medical technicians was Carol Bentner. She had been here since the beginning. She signaled the others she was going to take a break and stepped out of the MASH-style tent. Approaching a guard seated out side the door with his M-4 rifle leaning against the tent, she smiled at him as she stepped up to his chair. She reached around him and lifted his rifle. With surprising expertise Carol worked the action and shot the awestruck guard in the chest. Then she put the muzzle in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

***

The old doctor looked down on the tableau of Marcy and Carl. He was in crisis. The catheter bag showed less and less output. She cursed like a sailor under her breath. She needed a real lab. She touched Marcy’s shoulder.
“Honey, I need to talk to you.” Marcy looked at her with eyes brimming.

***

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