Charahub Shutdown

Feb. 18th, 2019 09:34 pm
armaina: seriously dudes, not stock art. (Default)
[personal profile] armaina
If you were not aware, Charahub is closing March 1st.

If you had any content on the site you don't have backups of, I'd go and grab it while you can before the place shuts down. If you don't already have an alternative place to post that content, here are a few places I can suggest:

https://refsheet.net/ - Nice clean interface. ability to list exact character pallets. No character or image posting limit. Visual activity feed of the people you follow and interactions you have. In progress dedicated marketplace. NSFW settings and built-in watermarking.

https://www.rprepository.com/ - limit of 25 characters with free account. Interface takes some getting used to. limited gallery features. Widgets specifically for character stats. The biggest draw to the site appears to be it's RP forums and the community seems to prefer fantasy leaning things.

https://toyhou.se/ - requires a code to make an account but if you poke around there are people that just give away codes no problem. No limit to characters or images you can have. Ability to post both images and literary works. Can tag other characters in image posts. NSFW settings and built-in watermarking. Ability to trade characters to another user.

Personally, I find either refsheet or toyhouse to be the most robust but there are a lot of people that use and find other people through RPrepository.

GWOT 2 - Ration Of S---

Feb. 17th, 2019 08:13 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
[personal profile] drewkitty
GWOT 2 Ration Of S---

I've had to delegate or drop all other operational tasks. Food security is the top of my to do list.

Damn you, Alan Cartwright!

I got an E-mail from my Corporate. Technically I'm a contractor. And I'm not supposed to receive billing E-mails. But it's good to have friends in IT, and I'm therefore monitoring the accounts of three dead Client security managers.

"Notice Of Pending Account Termination. We deeply regret that due to nonpayment of invoices exceeding 180 days, we will soon be forced to terminate the provision of security services. Please contact your Accounts Team immediately to work out payment arrangements. We accept payments by EBT, wire transfer, hard check to our lockbox, and all major credit cards."

I contacted Corporate. After some circling E-mails, we figured out the problem. Nevada cancelled and sent back invoices not just for their site - where they fired the guards a few days after the Firecracker - but for all of our services in North America. But especially in San Jose.

I packaged all the invoices - from the week of the Firecracker War to present - and resubmitted them. Through the SLE.

An hour later, I started getting a flood of E-mails. Client Accounts Payable, confirming receipt. Confirming approval of payment. Confirming wire transfers. Then my Corporate, confirming inbound wire transfers. A puzzled E-mail from our C suite, addressed to the SLE and CC'ing me by name for once. "We have received your wire transfer of $8,322,400 bringing your account current in full. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to support you in this time of national trial. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do."

The problem is that most vendors just don't have the strategic depth that we do. Normally, the cafeteria just has an account with a local food distributor, or about a dozen of them, and the food is delivered by truck from a local distribution center. The cafeteria manager endorses the bill for payment, and we're done.

We'd had to literally burglarize -- well, technically a hijack, but it was on the plant property so burglary as well -- the nearest distribution center still up, which did not have private scum like us on its dramatically shortened authorized customer list. That had been risky. And wasn't going to work a second time. Recon (motorcycle plus tripod plus high resolution camera) indicated that they were now putting in sandbagged machine gun nests on either side of the main gate.

We had been ordering from two vendors in Bakersfield - one a big box grocery store that also sold to the public - and paying a contract trucking company truly larcenous amounts of money to haul the stuff to Gilroy. There, a security team from the site would meet the authorized convoy and escort them through the unsettled south Santa Clara Valley. Minus whatever Gilroy PD, CHP, Morgan Hill PD, San Jose PD, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, etc. 'confiscated' for themselves.

Cartwright had fucked up the invoices for the vendors. So neither of them would accept commercial paper from us anymore. Credit cards or cash only, and not until we settled outstanding balances that were too big for credit cards and cash to settle easily. They weren't set up to receive EFT, SWIFT or other bank wires.

So we are all about to starve to death over a fucking billing issue. Literally.

I don't know if Cartwright understood what he was doing. I suspect that he thought he could force the site to close by cutting off the food supply. But he'd moved the guard housing to an undefended stretch of perimeter and then sent someone to tell the local criminal element it would be a good time to attack us. Possibly as a cover for his planned coup, but just possibly in the hopes that the attack would justify shutting down the site.

That had been his entire tasking, I suppose. Shut down the San Jose operation at any cost. Well, he'd paid with his life, and we were still here.

It was too late to evacuate, even if we could lay hands on the buses. Two thousand people can't fit on two buses anyway, even if we hadn't expended them getting the H1Bs out.

As for the black market, Cartwright had poisoned the well there too. Arranged for one shipment, confiscated it, and sent the middlemen away by muzzling them. They don't accept wire transfers, checks or credit cards. And greenbacks are merely an eye catching form of toilet paper. Bluebacks at a discount, or trade goods, and that's it.
And we already owed them, with interest. And in their business, interest is usually collected in fractions of body parts.

A collection of the more inane questions collected over the last few months:

"But why not just go down to the grocery store?"

Because there aren't any! There are empty shells that still contain displays, greeting cards and unplugged freezers. But they aren't getting restocked either.

"Why isn't everyone else in the Valley starving to death?"

Because they are. It's slower because so many people 1) self evacuated, 2) have been interned, 3) are being fed from public or quasi-public sources, 4) are being helped by absolutely heroic efforts from churches, charity organizations, the regional food bank (now employing armed guards from a competitor) and the Red Cross.

But people are starving to death down the street. And they're not going to divert food from hungry people to a corporate site. Except black market, interest in body parts, etc.

"Why can't we grow our own food?"

We're trying. Math. We have about ten acres under cultivation, which from a standing start is not bad. On paper, one acre can feed somewhere between one and one thousand people, with a global average a lot closer to one. The effort to feed more people on less area is very intensive. We're feeding about 300 people off that 10 acres, which is really not bad.

"What about livestock?"

What about them? They eat (a problem) and poop (a help) but they aren't efficient at turning plant into meat. We are keeping chickens which is helping enormously. But they are a _supplement_ to an effective farm operation, not a replacement for one.

"Fish farming?"

Oy. A severe pain in the ass, and technology intensive. We have a pilot project running and its entire output is devoted to children with chicken or beef allergies.

"Orchards? This is the Santa Clara Valley."

None had been left on campus at the time of the Firecracker. Trees take two years to mature. We have planted trees, but this is a gesture of hope not a solution. What little fruit we have, we trade for with neighborhood groups.

"Aha! You mentioned trading!"

It's not enough. They're scrambling for food too, you see, and the kind of trades we're doing is essentials for essentials.
We don't feed two thousand people on six bags of lemons, but we do chase off forgotten diseases like scurvy.

"We're rich, we can pay!"

See above.

So there was only one thing left to do. On our next convoy, I stopped at a particular spot. While the convoy went through the motions, I chalked a curb and hid a note under a nearby paving stone. A prearranged dead drop for contact with one of our black marketers.

Later that same day, someone emptied a septic tank truck on that spot.

Message received and understood clearly.

Fortunately, I'd used similar methods to contact our other black market contacts, and one had indicated back that they were willing to meet. Neutral location, two vehicles only, as heavily armed as we liked, no trading during that meet.

I had no choice; I accepted.

###

The dapper Asian man in his business suit was still guarded by two angry boys with rifles. They looked older now, although only a few months had passed.

"I thought I had seen the last of you. Where is Cartwright?"

"Dead," I said, and passed over a tablet with the scene photo. I especially liked the shot of just the head, clearly unattached.

He passed it back.

"That man burned me. I lost goods. More importantly, I lost face. Your note said you would make up the losses."

I nodded. It pained me to do so, but a team started unloading - out of the limited bed space of the Hate Truck - the valuables Cartwright had promised and not delivered.

He inspected the items cursorily. This was not good enough, I sensed it.

"I need more," he said calmly.

And not more stuff either.

"I have only one coin left. What do you want me to do for you?"

I could see him savoring my predicament. I'd refused, on moral grounds, to give him the data laden servers he'd wanted in the mad days immediately after the Firecracker. They were gone now, mostly salvaged, some destroyed.

"Nothing. Your people are OK, but I now employ better. I have all that I want for myself."

"Then why agree to the meet?"

"Turn down a deal so very beneficial to us both? Your word is good. So is mine. We have a basis for future deals. Walk with me."

We walked sideways, out of hearing of his people and of mine. Their eyes followed.

"You have a problem. Your site is riddled with Homeland eyes and ears. You are a suspect. Others are actually targeted. Anyone brought into your campus after your recent vacation should be viewed with great suspicion."

And he had his own agents among us as well. This was getting better by the minute.

"I have been asked to ask you to compromise ... I must get the acronym right ... CFI."

Shit.

"I won't do that," I said flatly.

Customer Facing Information. And given our customers, we were now talking treason.

"And I won't ask you to do that. But we are both men under certain pressures. I want a private trade, between you and me. If your campus collapses, you are welcome to take service in my organization, with any who will follow you. If my own situation falters, I may need to seek employment with you, under the same terms."

"Accepted," I said at once. It was a revealing trade. We were both men riding tigers.

My tiger was starving.

"You need something desperately. I can sense it. So can others. Others will come asking the questions you cannot answer. Be warned."

He turned and walked back to his crew. The meet was over.

We still hadn't gotten the food.

But I couldn't trade a site killing thing for a site killing thing.

###

Resources utterly exhausted, I had two more arrows in my quiver.

One was the Latter Day Saints. The reply was polite but in the negative. They had a little excess, but they were commanded by religious law to hang on to it. I was politely reminded that some of us were not apostates, and that those people could therefore shelter with the Church as a last resort.

What a tactful way of disinviting me and anyone under my authority.

The other note was never replied to. Whether they had stopped servicing that drop, had nothing useful to contribute, or were dead (plus or minus screaming under interrogation) was besides the point. No answer is its own answer: unable to respond, or unwilling to respond is almost besides the point, and thank you Mr. Spock.

###

Dinner that night, in compliance with my orders, was somber and sparse. I did not eat.

###

I refused to accept defeat on this one. I racked my brains, with Wyatt in the Room, for a way to turn this around.

I put on a business suit and went to the VP of Human Resources.

She seemed shocked at my appearance. I was shocked too, and also weaponless.

"I need your help. We need to go to Homeland in San Jose. Right now."

She also changed clothes. Then we checked each other's papers.

A minimal convoy, minimally armed, delivered us to a security checkpoint. Past that we walked, just the two of us, through the control zone that had been San Jose's downtown.

We reached the front desk. Our appearance had gotten us past several checkpoints. But the receptionist required us to state our business.

"We are here to register two thousand, one hundred and thirty one persons. We've submitted their documents but have not received a reply."

While we waited for a Homeland official, we were expertly body searched.

Then we waited together on a cold bench.

A team of four heavily armed Homeland goons came out the secured doors and marched towards our bench. They stopped short of us, by a woman crying quietly to herself.

"Mrs. Kaur? You asked for news of your husband?"

She nodded, her face terrible with hope.

"He is dead. Do not return here or you will be interned."

The team backed away carefully.

She blinked twice, wrapped her dress around herself, and walked out.

(Two weeks later, she did come back. Six dead, eighteen wounded.)

Ten minutes after that, two Homeland auditors came out and escorted us to a side conference room. We presented our IDs to support the Client picture badges we wore.

"We've verified our records. We see that all of your campus occupants are registered properly. What is the concern?"

"We have not received proof of registration. Therefore none of them can apply for ration cards."

The two auditors eyed each other.

"They all have ration cards and have been drawing rations for three weeks now."

"Someone has been drawing rations. Not them," I said calmly.

There were two ways to solve this problem.

1) Cancel the fraudulent ration cards and reissue them.

2) Disappear the two annoying minor officials who brought this awkward situation to light. (Note: that could be us, the two auditors, or all four.)

The auditors withdrew to consult their superiors. We waited.

An hour later, we were handed a folder containing third party ration procurement authorizations with the Homeland seal, contact information for three licensed area food distributors, the business card for our future Homeland point of contact (as the old one had been 'transferred') and a vaguely worded release of liability which would absolve Homeland of all crimes and/or sins.

We both signed it and walked out with our lives.

Of course, detailed imagery of both of us was now in Homeland's files.

A small price to pay, for two thousand lives.

anthro new england here i come!!

Feb. 17th, 2019 11:04 am
not_fun: cial nixon jarhead (Default)
[personal profile] not_fun
Inhuman update!

whew, here we go heading into the week of anthro new england!! i'm really excited. i hope i get to see some of yall there <3

recovery from surgery is pretty well on track at this point! i did have an infection (which are very serious w surgery!) so was on some heavy duty antibiotics the last week+. but that's finally over with, so horraaaay. come the 20th i'll be meeting with the oncologist again to discuss chemo and what other treatments i've got in my near future. which since there were some spots of cancer on the lymph nodes, i do gotta do. sucks!!! but better than dyin!!!

i want to thank everyone who's been so kind and supportive and patient with me these last couple of months. it's been really chaotic. i'm hopeful that chemo won't be so bad as to kill my productivity entirely but we shall see. in the meantime...

i made a little site for my audiobook reading of the pulp scifi novel Sin In Space!

also, if you have a moment to share or a few $ to spare, please check out my gofundme for payment of the water bill ... cuz while i was in surgery, a pipe burst and our basement flooded. classic luck!

but... luck can change, and i'm too stubborn (or stupid?) to be daunted. so enjoy the comic, i hope i see you at the con, and have a good one til next update!

GWOT No Hostage Facility

Feb. 13th, 2019 09:11 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
[personal profile] drewkitty
GWOT No Hostage Facility


I can't sleep. I should be able to sleep. In fact I have to sleep. I took two patrols out this evening, I have to take another rescue convoy out at gray dawn, it's 3 AM. I sleep now or I don't, for another full day of this.

I toss in the stolen sleeping bag. I've been sleeping in a different spot each time. This time I'm curled up in a void space halfway up the stairwell between the third and fourth floor of H building. The cheap key lock (think mailbox key) has been disabled carefully by yours truly - but if someone did lock it on me, I could kick it open anyway.

A radio earbud in my ear lets me half-listen while sleeping. I've woken up to violence over the radio before. Also violence nearby.

I deliberately relax parts of my body in turn.

Nope, it's not working.

I hear shouting. Then the distinctive hollow BANG of a gunshot indoors.

I key up on the radio while kicking the sleeping bag off.

"Echo 18, gunfire, H4. React, react."

I ignore acknowledgments as I crawl to the access door made of thin metal and look out through the hole where the lock used to be. Clear. So I clamber down and make my way up the stairs, drawing my handgun as I reach the stairwell door.

I peek.

I find myself banging the stairwell door open with my left hand while my right hand comes up of its own accord, pointing the barrel of my handgun like a laser at the tableau.

A man in a business suit has fired a handgun into the ceiling. He is holding someone in front of him. I don't recognize either - not my Client, not Corporate Security, not someone who should be armed.

This is a hostage situation. Back off, set up a perimeter, call for assistance ...

I start shooting immediately.

I side step and reload, aim downward, and shoot the hostage taker twice in the head. He has already been shot at least three times in the torso with my first magazine of ten.

Then I turn to the hostage.

"Turn around!" I roar. "Hands on the wall! Do it now!"

They are frozen in immobility as I first holster then shove them back by the shoulders. They start to keep their feet and I shove one shoulder the next time, spinning them. They catch themselves against the wall and I push their arms away from their body, then using a booted foot to kick their ankles apart.

I start searching them for weapons. My touch is impersonal, rough and rude. "Clear," I announce to the small crowd that is gathering, none of whom are armed.

Two more security staff run up. One takes up a cover position on the downed attacker while the other asks, "Who else is there? Who is outstanding?"

The crowd is confused. I ask the hostage.

"Was it just him or is there anyone else?"

She is still shocked. She thought she was going to die, then she thought her rescuer was going to kill her.

"It's OK, I understand," I find myself lying to her, "We need to know if there's anyone else who is a threat."

Meanwhile the attacker is handcuffed and searched, his other weapons removed, with blood and brain matter oozing from the missing half of the back of his head. One guard starts to take a pulse with her off hand, shakes her head, and holsters.

"I need a stretcher bearer team to respond to H4, Code 2," I call on radio.

The entire concept of stretcher bearers is brand new. There are employees who think Security should be doing all that. Prior to the Firecracker, we did all initial response to fire and medical emergencies. Now there is just too much going on to put it all on us.

This is not a medical emergency. This is a body removal. Secure the scene, start a crime scene log, allow no one to enter or to leave ...

Yeah. About that.

A security supervisor shows up and I let her - Sharon - take over the incident. I report that I have fired twelve rounds at one suspect, that there are no suspects outstanding,

The hostage is interviewed. The employee was insistent on speaking to whoever was in charge and picked a very bad way to go about it - kidnapping another employee and making threats. That's why he'd been allowed past the guard desk in H1 and into the elevator. The executive receptionist in H4 had promptly locked the doors in his face and walked away, which had prompted his gunshot. Good for her.

"Attention to orders," I called on the radio after hearing this.

"Attention to orders," I repeated again. "This is now a No Hostage Facility. Under no circumstances will anyone be permitted to hold anyone else hostage. I need Control to verify acknowledgement from all guard posts. A memo will follow."

I went downstairs, across the yard and over to the logistics area in C building. We were starting to accumulate necessary items as we could get them. In a corner devoted to Facilities we had spread out a few tables, some markers and stencils and spray cans, some butcher paper and tarps, and a stenciled sign that read "SIGN SHOP."

I filled out a request form for the morning crew to make and then go put up.

Priority: IMMEDIATE
Reason: life safety
Location: North Gate, South Gate (both large), approaches to all exterior lobby doors.
Font: Impact
Wording: NO HOSTAGE FACILITY. DEADLY FORCE ORDERED. [CLIENT] SECURITY.
Approval: Echo 18

Then to borrow the antiseptic terms of a report, I proceeded to the H1 guard desk and counseled the guard on duty. After our counseling session, I covered the post so that he could go to the infirmary, and so that I could explain the new No Hostage Facility policy to his relief.

Without using the walls.

GWOT Processing Feelings

Feb. 11th, 2019 03:40 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
[personal profile] drewkitty
GWOT Processing Feelings


I am digging a pit at the base of Boot Hill. Note: not on the slope. At the base. This is important.

No one is helping me. That's OK. Even if some of them are clearly motivated by a desire not to be classified as accessories after the fact.

There is a body wrapped in blue tarps next to me. He used to be one of my guards. Now he's a corpse. This is a positive change for once.

It's amazing how much hard work is involved in digging a hole. You occasionally have to pry up rocks.

I am so very furious that I really don't care.

Yesterday, someone set off a truck bomb at my site. I came within moments of being killed several times.

That's not why I'm pissed.

Several people died. Some of them quite horribly.

That's not why I'm pissed either. My dead meat button is broken. It was pushed in San Mateo, broke off at Stanford, and was lost somewhere between Redwood City and Mountain View on a day of nightmarish post checks where I mostly found bodies.

Now meat is just meat. If I unwrapped the tarp, I would see that the dead guard's left hand is a tangled mass of broken bone and shredded meat.

I did that. With an sledge hammer.

Autopsy would show that the dead guard's heart stopped due to extreme stress.

A careful forensic autopsy would also show that the heart was stressed by continuous application of my thumbs to his carotid arteries, well after he lost consciousness and before I started what I knew in advance would be totally ineffective CPR.

I murdered him. Everyone knows it.

Almost everyone is OK with it.

The man who is not OK with it just walked off the site after throwing his uniform shirt and badge at me.

"Fuck you, sir, I'm out. Going to shoot me in the back?"

"No, Dave, I'm not going to shoot you in the back. Let me get you your last check."

"Fuck you and fuck my last check. I. Am. Out. Of. Here."

And with that he shouldered his backpack, the same one that had contained his lunch on the morning of the Firecracker War, and walked off site with expert knowledge of the premises, the people and the pre-apocalyptic situation.

I really should shoot him in the back. Or call out so that he turns around, and then shoot him in the front. But I didn't.

I keep digging the hole. You don't shit where you eat, and you clean up after yourself. It is right and proper that I be the one to dig this hole, to drag the now-naked corpse into it, and shovel dirt over it.

Two weeks ago, I'd be arrested. Charged with murder. Criminally prosecuted.

There would be no homicide investigation. There hadn't been of the guards and worse yet, Employees murdered by the attackers - with the knowing help of the guard I'd murdered. The police had come out, taken a brief report, and rushed off to the next call. It was a measure of grudging respect for us that they had bothered to come out at all.

I had compromised my ethics slightly, by asking that the landscaping crew bring over a blade full of tan bark to cover the soil.

As I started raking it, I heard gunfire from the North Gate. The same one Dave had walked out of.

I put the shovel in the golf cart, made sure my rifle was ready to hand in the other seat, and rumbled back down the path to the perimeter road, to the North Gate.

When I got there, Arturo was on a knee with his rifle up and looking through his optics.

He held very still, sighed slightly.

KRACK!

Shot fired.

"Shit," he said. "They got Dave."

"Who got Dave?"

Without turning or moving his head, he held very still again and fired another round. KRACK!

"Gangbangers. It's OK now."

I didn't have my binoculars with me. The North Gate guard handed me his pair.

Several men were waving and gesturing at us in that vaguely ridiculous way that means they're 1) really pissed but 2) at a considerable distance. But they were turning and turning again, on the edge of running away.

On the ground were two bodies. One was recognizably Dave.

"Arturo?" I started to ask, then stopped myself.

Of course.

Arturo laid down in the mud, braced on one elbow, sighed carefully, relaxed, breathed in and out deeply, sighed again.

KRACK!

In my glasses, I saw Dave's body move slightly. The men who had seized him were now running away.

Arturo stood.

"All clear," he announced on radio.

Arturo hadn't murdered Dave. The gang had. Arturo had saved him from a horribly prolonged death by torture, in the only way possible. By killing him.

"I told that idiot to leave by the South Gate," I found myself saying without thinking.

"He wanted to piss you off."

"Hell of a way to do it."

"Yeah."

"Do we have imagery of these pendejos?"

"Yes."

"Every face is marked. BOLO on all of them. Shoot on sight. Whenever, wherever."

"Copy."

I supposed I was supposed to feel something.

What was the acronym? Halt? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired?

I was all four. And probably would be until I died.

I went back to raking tan bark over a human piece of shit.

As a direct result of his action, deliberately opening a security gate for a bribe, two guards had been killed and a third was badly hurt, expected to die. (That night, he did, as expected.)

With Dave, that now meant a four for one trade.

Then I went back to the new Security Office. I had work to do, vetting every guard, making sure I didn't have any traitors lurking as this one had.

Feelings?

Fuck my feelings. And fuck you too, Dave. I needed you, you dumb asshole. You had no right to commit suicide like that.

For a moment I considered the pistol at my side and the slung rifle over my back.

I had no right either. Less now.

Back in the office, no one wanted to meet my eye as I sat down with the video recordings. The DVRs still had more tales to tell. We had paid in gallons of blood for the knowledge they contained.

I could no more refuse to look at the recordings than I could escape my fate ... or help Dave to escape his.

That little bit of morality I retained.

Agency. A person has the right to choose the place, time and manner of their life and their death.

Dave had chosen his. The traitor had chosen his. Even the gang members and would-be terrorists had chosen theirs.

I was not however free to choose mine. My death was pre-paid, by screaming children and nuclear blast.

###

I was sitting in a courtroom. I was wearing an unfamiliar uniform.

I was called to the stand. I put my hand on the swear book. I said the words.

Then I gave my testimony. Root word: testes. Testicles. Balls.

Where was I at the moment the Firecracker went off? What part of the restaurant had I been looking at? What image indelibly burned itself on my memory, if not my retinas, at the moment the second airburst detonated a classified number of feet above San Francisco International Airport?

I heard myself speak. I did not hear the words.

I heard the tone.

I was swearing to facts which I knew utterly to be true, without fail and without doubt.

I was naming names. I was talking about subjects that made no sense. A man's name, a submarine, a permissive action link - whatever the hell that was. But my knowledge was hard won and it was absolute.

I had an ocean of blood to swim through before I reached that room.

Then I could die. Not before.

But I could always be killed.


###

"Sir," Sharon said carefully as I bolted upright and started to draw my pistol, then stopped.

I had fallen asleep. In front of me on the video monitor was looped the gate entry of the bomb truck.

I blinked and saw that there was a mug of tea on the table, still steaming.

I took a sip.

It tasted like fate.

GWOT Coastal Action

Feb. 8th, 2019 08:57 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
[personal profile] drewkitty
We continue our sprint for the China coast. More aircraft are flown in, replacements for all the ones we have lost. Fighters, multi-role aircraft (read: bombers), even an AWACS.

As soon as they land, they are serviced, armed and sent out to fight.

We have more and more air cover now. We are establishing an air bridge, tanker aircraft providing in flight refueling and some aircraft refueling at bases all over the Pacific. Japan refused permission - we are operating out of Okinawa anyway. Scuttlebutt has it that the Japanese ambassador was invited to discuss the problem with San Francisco.

Taiwan is in the fight. For over sixty years the Nationalists have been waiting. This is their time; they're going back. The Taiwanese invasion of China has begun, and we are supporting it. This carrier, this crew.

Both sides are learning the hard way a lot about nuclear war. China doesn't have a logistics situation - it is a nightmare wasteland of shattered cities, wrecked interchanges and rail yards, and fallout patterns. But they are still in the fight, and they don't have to haul every gallon of gasoline and round of ammunition thousands of miles over the ocean first.

We do. The task of the US Navy is to keep the flow going. The task of the remnants of the Chinese Red Navy is to slow it down or stop it. That's not going to happen.

Los Angeles survived what San Francisco did not. They would have done better to nuke the Oakland docks - over a third of our wartime shipping is flowing out through that port. The Armed Forces Network tells us that demolition crews had to cut the one surviving cable of the four that had supported the Golden Gate Bridge. The roadway had dangled sideways, blocking the ship channel. Now only the orange towers remained.

We have nuked every port we did not plan to use. But the port we do plan to use is now being fought over. In the opening days of the War, both the US and Taiwan dropped small special operations teams - US Navy Seals, Marine Recon and Taiwanese Marines - and utterly fucked it up.

Those teams were not supported. In antiseptic military terms, they died on the vine. In the real world, they were hunted down and destroyed.

Now two divisions of Taiwanese Marines and a division of American Marines are about to perform an amphibious assault.

The Chinese of course have tried to nuke the ships and landing craft assembling just offshore. We of course have prevented that by aggressively nuking anything resembling a missile, a dock or an artillery piece.

My tasks are changing. The psychological casualties have been returned to service or evacuated. Helicopters cross-deck constantly from other ships in the fleet - sailors to repair damage, aviators and mechanics to keep aircraft flying. Marines are piling up, coming over in drabs and dribbles and berthing in any available space.

My task - which requires an officer - is to find and allocate that space, and to help with the endless stream of electronic logistics requests required to feed and arm them. I am at a desk with a computer sixteen hours a day, interspersed with brief visits to trouble spots.

The latest such visit is to the anchor room. A platoon of Marines has been quartered here. The safety officer - incredibly overworked - has just informed their Lieutenant that touching the switches on the walls could cause the death of his unit. He is understandably upset.

"Is there anyplace else to put us?"

"No," I reply briskly. "I have Marines in the holds, in the hallways, the laundry, the corridors. The only other available spaces are the special weapons storage - I have Marines in the conventional magazines already - and the reactor compartments. Both combat conditions and the weather prevent putting anyone on deck or in the hangar bays. This space is perfectly safe _as long as no one touches the switches_."

I am the superior officer he has appealed to. He grumbles and accepts the inevitable.

I am working on a berthing plan for the steam side - non radioactive - of the reactor compartments. It's a security violation but they're Marines. It's dangerous but they're Marines.

I see on the logistics plan that we are receiving three more platoons of Marines tomorrow.

The 1MC shouts, "All hands, all hands, surface action starboard, surface action starboard." Then the WHOOP of General Quarters and the litany.

Surface action starboard? What the hell?

I run up two decks to the nearest porthole, then recall that my battle station is still in Sickbay. As I am rushing aft, I hear the godfart of the CIWS - Close In Weapons System, a Gatling gun, engaging a target.

I am still a part time war correspondent, so I can get away with lollygagging and divert my rush towards the starboard rail.

I don't have a chance to see anything. Someone grabs me, another officer, wearing headphones. Someone from Aviation Group, an antisubmarine warfare helicopter pilot.

"We need a boarding party! Now! Get Marines!"

"How many?"

"All of them!"

I know where all the Marines are berthed. I also know the fragmentary station bill we have started to work out. The most battle ready unit is midships in the TV studio and the gym.

"Sergeant! Boarding party! Helicopter! No fragos, no time, mount up! I need two squads! Follow me to the flight deck!"

I'm an officer, it's an order. They do.

The flight deck is pandemonium. A burning F/A-18 is being put out with dry chemical extinguishers. Another F/A-18 is being launched off a port catapult. A Navy helicopter is lifting with a machine gun manned and ready. Two more Navy helicopters are landed but in ground effect; their crew chiefs wave at me and the Marines.

I am not even wearing a helmet. I am wearing khakis. Technically I should not be on the flight deck at all, but since the fire I have gone nowhere without hearing protection, which I hastily jam on. The interphones have an audio jack, but I primarily wear them for what's left of my hearing.

In the rush of Marines, I end up somehow in the center as they board the Sea King heavy helicopter. I hang on for dear life, the helicopter lurches under us, and I am suddenly in rather massive violation of United States Naval Law.

I have left the ship without the permission of the Commanding Officer.

The crew chief plugs my audio jack into the aircraft as we roar forward at maximum speed.

"Sir! Freighter bearing 110 degrees range 14 miles! Refugees and soldiers mixed on the freighter's deck! We need to board!"

That's nuts. But not quite as crazy as the F/A-18 fighter jet which starts to line up a strafing run on the freighter, then breaks off.

As I watch, a missile lights off the freighter deck - more than a MANPAD or man portable anti-air missile, but less than a trailer-sized antishipping missile. It heads straight for the carrier. We bank suddenly hard port and I have to hang on with both hands.

"Marines!" the crew chief shouts through the interphones and hoping those who aren't plugged in can hear him - not very likely - or read lips. "Fantail drop! Fantail drop!"

We aren't rigged for ropes and an assault landing. So we're going to land a helicopter on a ship we don't control - insane! - and the Marines are going to climb over the skids to the stern of the target vessel. Presumably shooting.

As we approach, we see that the first helicopter is parallel to the freighter, pointing its machine gun, and firing in short staccato bursts.

The gunmen - for they are in no uniforms - are firing back with rifles and light machine guns. They are mixed in with women and children. Clearly as human shields.

The sight enrages the Marines.

"Let's get it on!" roars one, I can only understand what he's saying because he's dripping spittle less than three feet from me, and I know Marines.

"Brace!" the crew chief shouts.

An enormous rattling boom rocks us sideways and back.

The F/A 18 fighter jet pilot, unwilling to fire 20mm cannon at a mixed crowd containing women and children, has gone to afterburner a mere fifty feet above the freighter's superstructure and hammered it - and us - with a wave of pure enraged sound.

We sweep around to the freighter's stern.

A team of three gunmen is hauling around something on a tripod to point at us.

Two of the Marines have their rifles pointing out the door, and start shooting.

We swoop in closer and suddenly the team of gunmen is swept away - and into pieces - by weapons fire from the side.

I hear another roar, only slightly quieter than the afterburner, and see that a Harrier 'jump jet' - an AV-8B of the United States Marine Corps - is in its hover mode only a few hundred feet away from us, at an angle. Instead of shooting across the ship the way a strafing run would have to do, the Marine pilot is shooting sideways with a careful short burst. It's still a burst from a 20mm cannon, which are notoriously uncaring as to who might be in the way of a shell.

Our skids hit the deck and the Marines attack.

They are shooting quick, controlled bursts at anyone with a weapon.

The crew chief unplugs the audio jack and pushes me off the helicopter, which lifts immediately.

I am now standing on the deck of an enemy ship. In a gun battle. Unarmed. I'm not even carrying a pistol.

I see a wounded gunman on the deck. I kick him in the head and take his rifle. He draw the bolt back, round in chamber. I look at his body for reloads. He is reaching for something when I shoot him twice in the chest. The new wounds kill him.

I try to think tactically. I have no communications. I don't have a satphone, or radio, or even a Marine radio headset. The Marines are fighting - actually, killing - and digging their way into the mixed crowd of refugees and gunmen ahead.

I spread my arms akimbo, waving frantically to get the attention of the Harrier pilot.

He stops and points his death machine at me.

I pump my fist several times in the air and point at the ship's superstructure, the bridge and command deck. Then I pump my fist several times again.

He banks, lines up on it, and starts firing cannon shells into the freighter's bridge.

He doesn't have to take my orders. We're both officers. But I am starting to have a plan.

"Marines! American Marines! Drop your weapons!" I shout. The Marines take up the cry. No one understands, but when a gunman who drops his rifle is not shot, others start to get the idea.

A gunman armed with a pistol starts to shoot one of his own men. The unusual motion catches my eye, I tap a Marine's shoulder and point. The gunman-officer and Marine fire at the same time. Both of their targets die simultaneously.

Two of the Marines reach a tripod mounted medium machine gun - the one that had been about to be pointed at us a lifetime ago - and slew it around.

"Lie down! Hands up! Down!"

There is no one to translate, but the Marines start pushing women and children and unarmed men and harmless wounded down. Anyone with a weapon however is shot.

Two bursts from the captured machine gun and the deck is ours.

Now for the hard part.

A ship - any ship - is a twisty mess of passages and spaces and pipes.

A second helicopter drops off a fresh load of Marines on the rear deck.

We are going in. Going below. Taking command of the ship, wiping out any resistance.

I reach down and take a bandolier of magazines from a dead gunman. I change magazines

Then I give the oldest command in the history of warfare.

"Follow me!"

They are Marines.

They do.

###

Sailors rush up as the helicopter lands back on the carrier.

"IMMEDIATE!" I shout as I put one's hands on a stretcher. I start to drag a second Marine off the chopper, a stretcher-bearer recognizable by his aid bag and two sailors help, and I shout "IMMEDIATE!"

The two are, pardon the expression, immediately taken - running - to the nearest battle dressing station. The other casualties are less serious; I let others deal with them. I go to the nearest ship's interphone and punch for CIC.

"We boarded the freighter. We have control of the decks and superstructure. We don't have the holds, the engine room or the steerage. Estimate three hundred surviving enemy gunmen mixed in with several hundred refugees."

"Who is this?"

I tell him.

"Say again?"

I do.

"Go back over there. Take a radioman this time. Take command of the vessel. Make for the port. It'll be ours by the time you get there."

There is only one legal answer.

"Aye aye, sir."

GWOT 2 - Test of Character

Feb. 5th, 2019 08:57 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
[personal profile] drewkitty
GWOT 2 - Test Of Character


As I worked through my target selection process, I had to confront something that up until now I hadn't been forced to confront before.

We were going to go steal stuff. Stuff that somebody else needed, to save lives with, but we felt our need was greater so we were going to lie to, beat up (or worse) anyone who got in our way, and then take it.

No dancing around the issue, no self defense, no pussy footing, no waving around purchase orders or receipts, no 'ends justify the means' or even 'necessity defense.'

Never mind the law. I'd broken enough laws to make my hypothetical future indictment a thing of beauty. This would just be _wrong_.

I knew the rationalizations as well as anyone else. Didn't make it right.

But we were going to do it anyway.

The problem was the gap. Cartwright had allowed the site's supplies to run so low that even if we pushed the orders through today - which I had no guarantee of - and a convoy could be found and assembled, it would take too long for the purchased supplies to arrive.

So we had to steal the stuff. Paying for it would admit who we were.

That meant we had to go in full undercover. I had considerably fewer people able and willing to do that. Shreve, for instance, might require more than one milk carton, but would be instantly recognizable in any clothes or none at all. (Yuck.)

We couldn't bring our own vehicles. That means a hijacking.

We couldn't risk being tracked back to site. That meant bringing equipment that could find and defeat tracking devices.

We needed an escape plan. Preferably one that didn't require us to kill cops. (Homeland, OK, you do have the draw the line somewhere. But not cops.)

As I finished my musings I realized that I had both a target and a plan. Damn I'm good.

Now I had to pull my handful of people together and wait for dark.

I went downstairs and logged into my scheduler.

"Ammunition Technical Working Group. Due to missed meetings, a makeup meeting is scheduled for 1600, usual location."

###

"Fuck me what?" offered Janine.

"You're the only one with the skills to defeat a tracker," Mo pointed out. "There are several reasons I can't go. But that's the big thing you can do that I can't do."

"We don't even know that there _is_ a tracker," Sharon offered.

"If pizzas were still getting delivered, the fucking pizza boy would have a tracker rammed up his ass," Betty pointed out. "What I object to is going. This is crazy wave guns at people shit."

I smiled broadly.

"Crazy is what you do, Betty." And who you do. "We have to do this as a snap kick, and that means a small crew of crazy, highly skilled people. We are the bare minimum crew. Janine to drive and defeat the tracker, Sharon and I to disable guards and truckers, and you to get us in and get us close."

"And how am I going to get... oh, you bastard."

Mo excused himself to start preparing the handful of care packages we would be bringing.

Brooke was on overwatch and carefully wouldn't know a damn thing.

###

"Where's my car?" I asked dangerously.

The mechanic looked up.

"Cartwright had us part it out."

When I die and go to Hell, I am looking him up. He can't die _enough_ to suit me.

I looked through the list of vehicles. There was only one that would work for what we needed.

Which is how the four of us got crammed into a Subaru station wagon, oddly equipped and carefully sanitized. With a bicycle rack and a bicycle on the back, too.

Driving to the vicinity of the target would be fairly simple. So we didn't. The Subaru dropped me off, with the bicycle and a very heavy backpack full of stuff, next to a screwed up gate to a dirt road. I did some things, left the backpack behind and rode after on the bicycle.

Cue front gate of secure facility, from which the battered Subaru had been parked a considerable distance. Cue us, carefully staying well away from front gate, equipped with armed guards with rifles who were actually conscious. Cue us going over the back fence instead, one by one. "Us" did not include me; I had another task.

Prior recon had determined that the fence was not alarmed and the cameras were not watched. We were dressed for the occasion, all over black sweats with towels over our faces. All the coverage of a ninja with less than a tenth the cinematic star power. That was OK, this was not Hollywood (or Bollywood), this was real life, where "Cut!" means nothing.

Betty stripped down as soon as the sight line blocked the corner of the building. She was now dressed in a short skirt, a blouse that left nothing to the imagination and a totally inappropriate use of makeup. She was now what truckers call a Lot Lizard, a prostitute looking for sex with truck drivers.

We identified a target truck. Truck waiting for clearance to leave, that had already been loaded. Awkward to hijack an empty truck. Fatal to hijack a guarded one.

Betty lurked in wait for the driver. I waited in the bushes some distance from the front gate, bicycle at hand and earpiece in my ear.

Betty pounced. The driver started to take her to the side. I found out later that he hissed something about "Not here!" but it was too late when she turned a kiss into a stranglehold and put him out with her thumbs on his carotids, then tied him up with her discarded sweatshirt.

This allowed Betty, Sharon and Janine to all crowd into the front of the truck and Sharon in particular to start the truck. One of the many odd jobs she'd had in between a bad childhood and a worse marriage was local short-haul truck driver.

The truck pulled forward just as the gate opened to allow another truck, one that had been cleared, to leave.

I heard a double click in my ears. Showtime.

I got on the bicycle and rode boldly at the guard shack, dinging the little bell on the bicycle and shouting.

"Here, piggies piggies piggies! Here oinkers! Food for the rich, fuck the poor, huh PIGS! FUCK THE PIGS! FUCK THE PIGS!"

A guard came out of the shack with his hand on his holstered handgun, clearly wondering how much trouble he'd be in if he dropped me. Probably none.

So I threw the first of several small packages at him with one second fuses.

BANG! BANG! Clouds of smoke and a sharp flash. Smoke was good because the guard naturally drew down and started shooting with an intention to hit me but a total inability. The entire front gate area covered in huge waves of smoke.

I rode like hell using the sound of the two trucks to guide me. Upon seeing the clouds of smoke, the first trucker sensibly came to a halt. The second trucker - Sharon - floored it and pushed past, blindly making the turn and aiming to put her left front tire on the center line of the public street.

I rode the curb line. This allowed the bumper of the truck to miss me in the smoke by about ten feet.

The right cab door opened as the truck started to pass.

This is the part we hadn't practiced. I realized at the last moment that I couldn't climb up from a moving bicycle to the side of a moving truck.

So I climbed up on the seat and pushed off the bicycle seat as I leapt for the side of the truck and desperately latched onto the side handle, at the same time a (belted in, she's not stupid) Janine grabbed at my torso and hauled me sideways.

The bicycle fell under the wheels and was crushed. Fortunately, I was not.

The driver would wake up and identify his truck. This would allow his dispatch to track, or worse, remotely disable the stolen truck.

So we sped down local roads and parked parallel to an empty office building, up on the sidewalk along the north side. This put the GPS antenna of the truck in partial shadow from some of the satellites. If we were lucky, it might interfere with the antennas of the tracker(s) as well.

Janine immediately dismounted with her tool kit while Sharon popped the hood and started checking the engine. That left Betty and I to check the back of the truck. Locked and sealed, but a moment with a shim and less than that with a blade took care of that.

The truck was full of boxes. If it hadn't been, we would have aborted - dumped the trailer, dumped the cab some distance away, spent an unpleasant night escaping and evading, and tried again if we survived.

The boxes were not loaded on GPS pallets. If they had been, it would have been a desperate effort to break bulk before they could be tracked, and dump the pallets and run.

I climbed, painfully, the top of the trailer from the cab, and cut two things that looked like they could be antennas. Finished with the tractor, Janine got inside the trailer and did the same. Then she checked the front of the trailer a second time.

While I was up there, I clipped the satellite antenna for the truck.

Sharon started the truck. Or tried to. It wouldn't.

Janine started tracing the ignition interlock, which led to the satellite uplink ... and the truck was smart enough to know that if it didn't talk to the satellite, the engine didn't really need to start after all.

But this also needed to have an override, accessible to stupid drivers with stupid guards - or worse, Homeland - pointing guns at their heads, to clear the checkpoint Or Else.

Janine traced and found the correct fuse, and pulled it.

The truck started.

Janine waved her frequency counter over the engine one last time, and slammed the hood.

This revealed to our horrified gaze ... two guys with a pickup truck, parked so as to keep the truck from moving.

One of them got out with a chrome plated handgun.

"Hey, ladies, need some help with something?" he mocked.

Betty double-tapped him twice in the head, stepped quickly sideways, and as the driver put his hands up in turn, head jobbed him neatly as well.

I cursed as I dragged the body clear, fastest as I was already wearing gloves.

"Betty, damn it, make him get out of the car BEFORE you execute him."

"Uh, sorry."

I then sat in the driver's blood to move the truck out of the way.

We all got in the cab of the truck and rolled out.

Pre-Firecracker, this wouldn't have worked. Drivers call 911, people follow you, CHP air units hover from their untouchable sweeping perspective, and you're so very very fucked. That's before you leave out the trackers.

Post Firecracker, you merely roll the dice with being found by someone. In this case, we had. But fortunately for us (not them) it had been someone we could head-job.

If it had been cops, we'd have had to try the _other_ head job gambit, Betty if they were straight and me if they were gay.

Call it half lucky. We were well clear of the second crime scene when a single local police unit came up behind us and burped its siren at us.

We pulled over.

As the cops got out, I got out and threw something under their front wheels.

As I got back in, their cruiser caught fire from the thermite grenade. If they had the sense God gave little goslings, they bailed out and started shooting at us with handguns. But we were already in motion and neither noticed nor cared.

But they did have radios.

So we reached the gate I'd stopped at earlier, and left behind a backpack. I dismounted, hopefully for the next to last time. Not for the last time, because that would mean I'd be dead on the ground nearby.

I reached into the backpack as the truck slowly rumbled past me. I ran between the gate posts, stretching something behind me, and securing it.

Three police cruisers came roaring up to the gate as I ran for the truck. Fortunately, Sharon hadn't sped up. Because if she had, I'd be dead.

I could hear the swearing over the truck's engine, then the high pitched cracks of rifle fire after I'd gotten into the cab.

I wondered if they were shooting at the truck, or the doubled length of heavy chain that kept them from further pursuit.

A few miles away, we met another truck - one of ours, suitably disguised, and a crew of loaders with a pallet jack. Parked butt to butt with a metal bridge ramp, it took only minutes to yank the pallets across. (The pallet jack was lifted and passed hand over hand as needed; amazing what six strong scared men with long arms can do.)

We started an evasion route. Ultimately, we made it back.

###

Bandits Strike At Systema Foods!

Two guards were killed and seven wounded when bandits attacked Systema Foods distribution center in a daring daytime raid this afternoon. One bandit threw hand grenades while two others fired at guards with automatic weapons. Homeland agents vowed to get to the bottom of this. The items taken were believed to exceed $100,000 in value, destined for use at soup kitchens and orphanages in the East Bay.

###

Pickles. Two pallets of pickles. And we didn't dare allow them to be used in any way that would reveal that we had so many, because Homeland was perfectly capable of putting two and two together from a cafeteria that always had lots of pickles and a cargo theft containing two pallets of same. And we couldn't even trade them away, same reason, except very very quietly to the Mormons.

Some crimes carry their own punishment.

Pickles. But in Apocalypse, if what you have is pickles, you drink pickle juice and you are thankful for it.

GWOT 2 - Feeding Mushrooms

Feb. 5th, 2019 04:02 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
[personal profile] drewkitty
The problem with returning from a business trip is the need to pick up the normal routine.

Of course, the normal routine had been so badly disrupted that we'd had to run over my alleged boss, go pick up his head, and then liquidate his minions when they decided to play at homicide bomber.

So my first stop, instead of re-reading my E-mail or coming up with an agenda, was to grab the duty reaction force and go visit the trash yard.

I wanted to make very sure the prisoners were where we had put them.

Shane Shreve was of course in the reaction force. But George had also attached himself to the reaction force, and kept standing in such a way that he was behind Shreve and his right hand was always free.

Good.

I read the trash yard duty log. The seven new prisoners - the last survivors of Cartwright's Cronies - had been separated, searched, given pencils and paper and the opportunity to make preliminary statements, and locked in their cells for the night. As they had not yet completed in processing, training or orientation, they were still in their cells. Breakfast had been delivered.

I read the two memos that had been filled out. One was a demand that we contact Corporate Security immediately on his behalf. I opened my phone (which worked only on campus but gave me E-mail) and sent a quick E-mail to that effect to the SLE, and wrote the words "Done - E18" and the date and time on the memo. The other was a statement that he had only gone along with the others because he didn't know who to trust or what to believe. No action required. He can stay a prisoner for a while, problem is self correcting. Liar or coward.

I deeply regretted not taking all the Cronies into custody immediately after Cartwright's death. But it would have been a confused, nasty situation and they would have been within their rights to resist and to appeal to Corporate Security for a resolution. Taking their loyalty and integrity at face value had been the high road. It had also cost us three extremely valuable lives - one of my last remaining unarmed guards, the SLE's designated bodyguard and last but not least, the SLE's executive secretary. Maybe we would win the political fight, but it was a damned expensive way to do it.

My E-mail chimed. A reply from the SLE. "Talked to Corp. He's fired. Do whatever you want with him."

I had the trash yard guards drag him from his cell over to the guns side. A red line painted on the ground and a rack of lockers indicated the boundary between where guns were allowed (in fact, required) and where they were not.

We had an interrogation room on the custody side. I wasn't using it. Going unarmed, even for a moment, this soon after an attempted coup struck me as begging to be the sudden victim of the worst case of suicide anyone ever saw.

Instead I had him stood against the wall, handed him his request, and given a chance to read it with my additional notation.

Then I passed him my phone with the SLE's E-mail open.

I looked him in the eyes while he read it. I was ready to go hands on with him if he tried to break the phone - but by doing so, he'd seal his own fate, and he'd have to be quite the fanatic to die over something so easily replaceable.

He handed the phone back, and it was like someone let the air out of him. He took a deep sigh.

"Looks like I picked the wrong side," he said.

"Shouldn't have been that way. Should only have been one side to begin with. I need some answers."

"Go."

"Who authorized the kidnap attempt on the SLE?"

"Cartwright."

Nice safe harmless answer. Can't interrogate the dead.

"Did he also authorize the murder of Alice Snyder? Did he also authorize the murder of Kurt Sebas?"

"Huh?"

"Alice Snyder was the SLE's executive secretary. She was murdered during the kidnap attempt. Kurt Sebas was the SLE's bodyguard, and as such a Corporate Security manager as is your company policy. He was shot in the head with his pants down while he was taking a shit. No chance at all. So that's two straight up murders of Employees. Key employees, I might add, worth a lot more than me. So who authorized those murders?"

He looked stricken.

"I'll add that Cartwright obviously got his orders from someone else. Someone in Utah or someone in Colorado. Quite literally an inside job. But they're in Utah or Colorado. I just got back from Utah - so unless I'm wrong, I'm pretty sure it wasn't Utah. That means Colorado. And you ... former Employee that you are ... accompanied Cartwright all the way from Utah out here. Convoy of fire and brimstone, hauling worthless crap over a thousand miles to be stuck in a radioactive hell with ... me.

"So what you are going to do, right the fuck now, is take a bunch of this paper and write the best fucking memo of your life. You are going to say Who, What, When, Where and How and especially WHY. You are going to write out everything and leave out nothing. You have eight hours.

"Because eight hours from now, I'm going to read that memo. And if I don't find in it anything to serve as a reason to keep your worthless ass alive, I am going to execute you for conspiracy to commit capital murder, three counts."

"What about my right against self incrimination?"

"Abrogated during a time of national emergency. You fuckers have already had two chances: to cooperate with Cartwright alive, to cooperate with Cartwright dead. You don't get a third. I am prepared to execute all of you. Try hard to give me a reason not to.

"Lock him in his cell with a bunch of paper and one sharpened pencil at a time."

I paused.

"Of course, if you think you have the balls, you can probably put the pencil through your eye and into your brain. If you really think this is worth dying over. And you are absolutely sure you won't flinch."

I gestured and he was dragged back.

I worked my way through the rest of the prisoners. Same offer. Write the best memo of your life, or die in eight hours.

I gave some orders.

"If anything happens to any of these prisoners between now and then, or any of the paper they dirty goes missing, I'll be taking absolutely lethal exception. Lives ride on this information and anyone who fucks it up is trying to get all of us killed. Not just me, not just the SLE, everyone on the site. So a three person rule is in effect from now until I come back in seven hours. Follow standard operating procedure. Reaction personnel will assist. But no convenient accidents, no staged suicides, and anyone who takes a piece of paper away from one of these prisoners before I do is probably going to be buried with it. Clear?"

I still took George and Shreve with me when I left. Next stop, Cafeteria.

Not for my breakfast. To find out where we were with the food situation.

"Oh thank God!" the cafeteria manager exclaimed as she got up from her desk and stopped just before committing to give me an enormous hug.

"How many days?"

"Two."

"Two?" I exclaimed.

"Two. I was told the buses would be here to take everyone away a week ago."

Well, shit.

How many ways is this asshole going to try to kill us all from his grave?

No wonder she was happy to see me.

This is the problem with having a reputation. You get to live up to it, over and over again.

Two days of food was a nightmare scenario beyond measure. Now we were going to have to get apocalyptic levels of funky.

We didn't really have two days. We had between three and five, depending on when and how panic set in, and which of my contingency plans worked.

"Serve as light a lunch as you dare. Slightly better dinner, you know the psychology. Solid breakfast tomorrow, no lunch. Dinner tomorrow night for children, invalids and pregnant women only."

She nodded. It went without saying that she would maximize food efficiency ... that was literally her job.

As we walked to Security Control, I cautioned George and Shane.

"Keep this a secret. Period."

At Control I reviewed the gate logs. Foraging had stopped as soon as the H1B convoy had left. Two food convoys had arrived via Bakersfield. Nothing since.

I called Finance from the safety of our duty office with the door closed.

"Cartwright said not to pay them, the quality was poor and the quantity shorted."

He'd know, wouldn't he?

"Regardless, and I'm swearing you to secrecy on pain of taking flying lessons from H5, we need the food. Now. Or better yet, yesterday. Can you pay them?"

"Of course."

"Pay them double. Tell them there was a screwup on our end."

"Do you have any idea what it takes to prepay a corporate purchase order? This goes above the SLE, I'll need a C level executive to OK it."

Sadly, I did.

"We buy food or we evacuate at once. We're not evacuating. So we buy food."

"I get it. I hope they'll still take my calls."

"If they don't, I need to know at once. Because as you and I both know, there are no other vendors in Bakersfield who will put up with our nonsense."

Nonsense in terms of waiting for a check instead of bluebacks on the barrelhead. But the only people with bluebacks were government agencies and the vendors they paid in same.

So much for the legal ways of getting food.

Now for the illegal ways.

I excused myself to go up to the Room. In the Room, I pulled down the binder labeled "Distribution Centers" and started going over addresses and diagrams.

Security spends its time preventing and responding to theft, burglary, robbery and fraud.

Now it was time for us to plan and commit.

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