Note to Readers: The Great Oil Crisis, as it was eventually called, should never have happened. There was no need for it, except that the people of the world (not just the United States) panicked. When people panic, their priorities change to 1) Self 2) Immediate Family/Friends 3) Community and so on. There were a few places where people didn't panic, and those places never really had to recover, rather they had to wait for everyone else to recover. The more people panicked, the worse things got for them later on. We, my hometown, fell somewhere in the middle of panic, but once order was re-established, people returned to their senses and mostly came together to help rebuild.
Some didn't want things to be re-built, and the same United States re-established as had existed before the crisis. Many of these used whatever tools they could to stall the rebuilding process. Others used the rebuilding process itself to prepare for a different United States, a new nation. Others saw the strength and power inherint in the American people and strove to make sure that we emerged from that darkness the same country we were before the light switches in our homes stopped working. Which of them achieved their goals, the annals of history will tell you. What I will tell you, though, is how they won.
The day after the church service where I publicly became a part of the Jacobs family, word arrived of several good things happening. Bakersfield, a hundred and some odd miles to our south had once been home of a number of oil fields. While most had become "economically unsuitable for continued operation" they still held a good amount of oil.
The District Commander in that area had announced that they had begun production at most of the once inactive wells and would soon be shipping raw crude oil to nearby refineries. At the same time, several tankers had arrived at refineries throughout the state and were now pumping their oil to be converted into different fuel products. Soon, there would be much more fuel available for use in getting society back on its feet.
Our District, under the orders of Colonel Jacobs had provided more to central command than any other District. We had also sent nearly three thousand new soldiers to bolster those in the San Francisco area, again more than any other District had given to another area. All these factors made us a very popular District with the Central Command, but there was also one other factor that put us into very good light.
For nearly forty years, our town had been one of the primary food canneries and processors of farm products in the west. Over recent years, many of those companies had closed their canneries and moved elsewhere for various reasons. Their factories though, that took raw tomatoes, green beans, and other produce and put them into cans for sale at grocery markets across the country were still there, waiting to be used again. Combined with the full granaries and farms around us, we had the potential to provide basic food supplies to not only the state, but our neighboring states as well.
The biggest roadblocks to that was the lack of fuel. We needed fuel for power plants to provide electricity to the canneries and other plants. We needed diesel for the trucks to move the food from the farms to the canneries, and from there to the other Districts. We needed gasoline and natural gas to allow buses to carry workers from their homes to these plants, and we needed willing workers to operate these plants.
What all this meant, is that a large part of these new resources would be diverted to us, and the Central Command was depending on Colonel Jacobs to make their investment pay off.
Most of our television stations in the past had come from Sacramento, the state capitol. In the first few weeks of the crisis, our news broadcasts for local issues came from there as well, but that changed by the middle of the week. A civilian news crew arrived and took over the sole broadcasting station in the area, which had formerly been a Spanish language station.
On Friday, the people our city and the surrounding area watched a broadcast from Colonel Jacobs and Mayor Mulroney. In that broadcast, they told the people of our District that they would soon be the centerpiece of the recovery of the Western United States. Then they unveiled the plan on how to recompense people that helped by working in the factories and other tasks that would be needed.
The idea had come from an economist at the community college who had been at the base to teach Henry and I a class. He'd overheard a conversation between Major Jennings and Colonel Jacobs and offered a way of paying workers without using dollars that were essentially useless. The professor, having thought he was wasting his time teaching two teenagers, had quickly been whisked off to talk more about his idea, and to discuss if it would work with the appropriate technicians.
The next Sunday, the Colonel was gone, in Sacramento unveiling a hastily assembled but detailed plan that would have food being shipped throughout the state within a few weeks. Henry and I still attended his church though. Major Jennings arranged a humvee, and two soldiers from Sergeant Connors' unit to take us there. Mrs. Jacobs was very happy to see us, as were many of the church members who surrounded us immediately.
One thing I noticed was that it was the adults who kept giving us attention, but their children, older, younger, and the same age as us looked at us warily. It bothered me a bit, until I recognize an emotion in several of the other faces. The emotion was jealousy.
It would have bothered me, but I'd never really felt close to most people my age, except Henry.
The next Wednesday, Colonel Jacobs returned from Sacramento with a broad smile. Fresh meat had started to become scarce that week, even for the military supply coffers, but the trucks that came with him solved that problem. The next day, a convoy of twelve tanker trucks arrived, pouring much needed fuel into local tanks.
The day after that, more tankers arrived, pouring fuel into power plants that had long since gone dry. For the past several weeks, several water and wind power plants had been the only ones providing power to the city, meaning that only a few areas used mostly by the National Guard and emergency services were energized. In preparation for those plants going back on-line, employees of the power company were brought back in to their old jobs, and spent several days shutting down specific power grids while opening up ones that had been shut down for years.
Over the weekend, contact was made with foreman and workers that had once operated many of those plants, and inspections were done. None of them were in perfect condition, and many had been stripped of their equipment, but with some work they could be made operational again. By the end of the next week, two of them were ready for work, and the line of people at the fifteen sites set up throughout the city to interview works was ten times the number needed for the work.
Henry and I were even assigned to two of the sites.
In deciding who they wanted as workers in these plants, primary preferences were to be given to men and women who had families to support. While this had not been advertised, it was something that everyone who was assigned to work on interviewing the potential workers was told. Most of the interviews would be done by the plant foreman who had already been recruited to get the plants on-line. Each site had a security team of mixed police and Guard forces. A Guard officer was in command of each site, and civilian workers had been recruited from the local government offices, which had begun to function again on a limited basis, and were doing the data entry on portable computers brought to each site.
Henry had been sent to a site in the west part of town, while I was assigned to a site on the east side. Both of us were assigned to assisting the civilian government employees with organizing people who had already had their data entered and were waiting for prioritization or the news that they weren't selected. Major Jennings had assigned us to these field assignments as a sort of reward for the good work we'd been doing and he'd purposely picked sites that the chance of anything bad happening was remote.
The sites near the north end of town, and closest to the neo-Nazi compounds had very high security and the compounds were all being watched by new forces that had finished the training program at the National Guard Armory in the western part of the city. The Colonel had agreed to the Major's idea, thinking it would do both of us good to get out of the command base because we'd both been growing antsy for the last week.
Our intensified training over the last few weeks had also changed us physically during that time frame as well. The last of my baby fat had been burned away from my body and I could see real muscles starting to form when I took showers. I'd also experienced a growth spurt and was now a bit taller and wore a larger boot size. Henry also had experienced a growth spurt, but not quite as large of a one as I had.
What still surprised me though was how many of the people recognized me, and mentioned something about it being nice to meet one of the 'Jacobs' boys. I learned that a newspaper had started up the last week and included an article about Henry and I. Who had written it, and how they had gotten the information I wasn't sure until one of the women who had mentioned it actually showed me the clipping. From the article it became very clear that whoever had printed it had talked to members of the Guard units that we interacted with at the base.
The idea that I was now some sort of celebrity beyond the Colonel's church was shocking to me, and I had to resist a very real urge to run.
Things went pretty smoothly at the registration site until near the end when we'd filled our quote of people. We still interviewed many of the people in the line, placing them on secondary lists if we needed more workers, or for when we needed people to work on future projects. It was when we announced that the line was closing that trouble started.
Captain Overton, who was in command of the site overall had come up to me shortly before 1600 hours and told me that it was time to shut down. As we got closer to winter, it was becoming colder and colder, and this day had been extremely cold. I, along with all the other military staff was wearing cold weather jackets that kept us reasonably warm. However, after being on my feet all day, dealing with hundreds of small problems like rebooting the computers after a power fluctuation from the portable generator, I was tired. Even the M-16 slung across my back was becoming heavy, and I was ready to curse Sergeant Connors who had insisted I carry it, and four magazines of extra ammunition, all day long. After ordering me to shut down the line, Captain Overton returned into the relatively warm tent and began to finish up whatever she was working on with the plant foremen inside. I returned to the fifteen ladies that had been doing the data entry all day and told them to finish up with the people they were working with and then shut down for the day. I also asked the most senior of the women to announce that the line was closing.
"What do you mean you're fucking closing?" A very irate male voice demanded a few minutes later when one of the women told him she was shutting down. "I've been waiting here all fucking day and you're fucking telling me you're done? No! You won't do this to me! I've got a family to support! You here me? You'll take my information down and give me a job dammit!"
"I'm sorry sir, but we've been told by the military to shut down." The woman said in a stern voice.
"I want to see the fucker in charge of this!" The man roared, and the woman looked directly at me, as I was standing nearby, stunned by the man's tirade.
"HIM?" The man roared in an incredulous voice. "That little pipsqueak is in charge here? What are we taking orders from kids now?"
"That's Colonel Jacobs's son." The woman said indignantly.
"I don't care who his daddy is!" The man roared. "You're going to take my information now!"
"Why?" I said when I had managed to find my voice again. I stepped forward quickly and he turned his glare on me, but I found that now that I was facing him I wasn't nearly as intimidated when I had been listening to him. He was maybe in his early thirties, white, with a huge gut that told me even in these hard times he was getting more than enough to eat. "Why do you want your name taken down so bad? We've already selected nearly four hundred people than we need. What possible purpose are you throwing a fit doing except possibly trying to get other people riled up? Are you trying to instigate something, sir? Are you trying to start a riot or something and maybe will discredit all these good people behind you? Are you trying to get them hurt?"
"Don't talk to me like that you brat!" The man said indignantly, but he was no longer yelling. Instead he was pushing a very pudgy finger as close to my face as the table between us allowed. "I'm an adult and you will do as you're told. Kids don't tell adults what to do."
"Corporal." My voice was firm, and edged up just a bit. I prayed that it wouldn't crack right now. The corporal that had been my assigned shadow all day stepped forward, his M-16 in his hands, casually draped across at his chest, but I knew more than ready.
"Yes sir?" Corporal Walters said as he moved to my side.
"If this fat bastard hasn't stopped bothering these good ladies here in one minute, please arrest him." I ordered.
"You don't have the authority to arrest me!" The man roared.
"Yes he does, sir." Corporal Walters said. "Me? I'd just cap your ass, but he's the Officer Cadet, so he gets to keep me in line. I do believe you have forty more seconds to depart."
"If you try to say he can't do that either, I might take his suggestion to heart." I said in a cold voice and the man squinted his eyes at me before turning and pushing his way through the crowd. That was when I got an idea and pulled a bullhorn off of the table. I pointed it towards the crowd and said the first words that came to mind.
"Hello everyone." I said, wincing at the way my amplified voice sounded. At least it was a bit deeper than it had been. "This is Dylan Jacobs speaking. On behalf of my father, Colonel Jacobs, I want to thank everyone for being here today. I know that all of you have come here, mostly on foot from all over. Unfortunately, the power generator we are using to make things work is almost out of gas. For everyone that has already given us your information, rest assured that we have your data. For those of you that did not have a chance yet to give us your information, I ask for your patience. I am confident that we'll be holding future sessions like this one. As more work becomes available, all of you will have your chance. It's not going to happen overnight, but things are going to get better. This is just the first step. It's getting close to dark now. Go home, talk to your families and wait for the next registration day. Thank you."
That seemed to work because the people were beginning to leave. There was some grumbling, and some pushing as tempers flared, but no fight. I turned around and found a smiling Captain Overton looking at me. The reddish tints in the air behind her made her flashing white teeth seem brighter somehow.
"Uh, sorry." I said immediately.
"What for, Cadet?" She said. "That man might have incited them into a riot if you hadn't diffused the situation."
"I could have made things worse." I said, realizing my mistake. "I should have had them get you immediately."
"They did, but you were taking care of things just fine." She said, still grinning. I ducked my head at that moment, in a vain attempt to keep her from seeing my cheeks blush. That was when I felt like a sudden wind had passed over my head, and the familiar sound of a gun shot filled the air. I looked up sharply in time to see Captain Overton look down in surprise at the bullet hole in her jacket, level with where my head had been before I had ducked my head in embarrassment. I was frozen for just a second, but I slammed to the ground with Corporal Walters on top of me.
Shrieks were filling the air from several hundred throats as people struggled to get out of the way of the impending gun battle. Corporal Walters rolled off of me, and moved into a half-crouch, his rifle at the ready, looking in the direction the shot had come from. I crawled to Captain Overton, and let out a choked sob when I found no pulse. I took my rifle off my back, pulled the charging handle and brought it to the ready as I also assumed a half-crouch. Walters was talking rapidly into his radio.
The sounds of screaming faded as the remaining people vacated the area, but the sounds of gunfire shots rang through the fading light. None of it was close by, and the answering fire was from M-16 rifles. I recognized another crack of gunfire as belonging to the heavier SAW from one of the Guardsmen. The sounds of boots came from behind and I swung around quickly, only to see three more guardsmen coming up. Walters let out a sigh of relief when he saw them.
"Get Jacobs out of here now!" Walters shouted.
"Not until we get who did this!" I shouted back.
"Look, Captain Overton is dead, Lieutenant Shanley was just injured." Walters shouted back. "You know as well as I do the only reason she's dead is that you ducked. You were the target and as long as you're here, you're in danger. We're under strict orders to make sure you get back safe if something like this happened and you better believe there's not one man in this unit that is willing to go back to base without you alive and well. If Captain Overton had had a chance to choose whether that bullet hit you or her, she'd have picked you. It ain't worth anyone's life if we go back without you."
"Then you'd better get the fucker that did this!" I shouted back. "That's an order."
Walters started to say something, but was cut off by a burst of noise from his radio. He relaxed slightly at whatever was being said and I made mental note that next time I went in the field I'd have a radio even if I wasn't part of the security unit.
"They got the sniper and two others." Walters said. "A fourth person is still running. There's four Guardsman and six police officers in pursuit."
I sighed with relief, and started to stand when three explosions ripped through the air, and I was again tackled by one of the Guardsmen who had just arrived. Pieces of metal flew through the air and I felt something sting my cheek. The man on top of me grunted, and I pushed him off in a fit of anger. I'd no sooner gotten into a crouch than Corporal Walters started yelling into his radio.
"What was that?" I yelled at Walters who looked at me sharply, motioning me to stay down.
"Humvees." Walters said a moment later, and his voice sounded odd through the ringing in my ears. "Three of them just blew up. Two men down there, and we lost our link to base."
"What do you mean we lost the link to base?" I demanded, and then realized I knew what he had meant. The squad radios weren't powerful enough to reach the base, and the radios in the humvees were now gone. "Never mind, I know."
"Sergeant Shavers is coming back with the prisoners." Walters said, and that was when I noticed the Guardsman who had tackled me wasn't moving up. The other Guardsman was checking him out and I turned to see large piece of metal sticking out of the man's back.
"Don't move Tom." The other guardsman was saying to the one with the metal in his back. He looked up at me and winced slightly. "It got through his flack jacket, but just barely. I'm not sure if it's hitting his spine or not."
"Don't move." I said, moving so he could see me from where he was staring, head resting sideways on the pavement. His helmet was a few feet away, against the table, under which the women who'd been working there were now gathered, huddled together and whimpering or crying softly. I noticed most of them had their laptops clutched in their arms. I suddenly remembered these men's names. I'd only met them today, but I knew I should call them by their names.
"Shilling, check the men in the tent, make sure their okay and stay with them." I ordered, and the man who had been tending to his wounded comrade got up and headed into the tent. I could hear him, vaguely, talking to the terrified men inside. I could feel adrenalin pumping through me, and terror, but the terror had to wait.
"Walters, get on the radio and get Shavers back here. Call the men pursuing the other one back as well. Form a defensive perimeter. I don't know how long we'll have to be here, but from what you said your orders were if anything went wrong, I don't think it'll be long."
"Probably not." Walters agreed before speaking into his radio. Within five minutes, eight Guardsmen and six police officers showed up. The lead Guardsman, Sergeant Shavers was moving in the front, half-crouched over and obviously on his guard. One of his men immediately gathered up the women crouching under the table and moved them into the tent. A few moments later two Guardsmen and two more police officers showed up; dragging and kicking to handcuffed men with them. I recognized the fat man that had tried to cause a scene immediately. Sergeant Shavers talked to the police officers who all disappeared into the tent to guard the civilians in there while all the guardsmen except Walters, Shavers, and two guarding the two prisoners evaporated into the increasingly dim light.
"We've lost all three of the humvees and all the squadcars." Shavers said to me as soon as the men were gone. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't stick you in the remaining humvee with some men and get you out of here."
"You don't know what traps might be set out there for just a move, you don't have enough men to spare, and you know that no matter how important the Colonel may think my life is, the data, and the men and women in that tent are more important." I said angrily. "The mission here is to help get this city, and this country back on its feet and one thirteen year old brat isn't as important as that."
"Some people might disagree with you." Shavers said with a smile. "Okay, we have anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes before help arrives. Derricks was in the humvee radioing in to base when the first shot was fired and they probably rolled out at that moment. Now that they lost comms with us, they're probably moving faster. Okay, just got word, perimeter is secure."
"I thought you had three people." I stated, rising to my feet, and keeping my rifle at the ready. I crossed over to where the two Guardsmen were holding the prisoners. The fat man had a black eye and the other man was shot in the shoulder with a hasty bandage applied.
"The third one was killed before we could capture him." Shavers stated coldly. "The skinny one got winged by lucky shot from one of the cops. Fatso was wheezing like mad when we caught him. He didn't even try to fight. He dropped a scoped rifle when he saw us."
I didn't ask how he got the black eye because right at the moment I was sorely tempted to shoot him myself. I moved stand in front of him and he sneered at me. I couldn't help the rage I was feeling and the butt of my rifle slammed into his groin with all the strength I could muster. He collapsed as if his legs were made of jelly, and I was surprised when he just squealed like stuck pig. He started coughing as he lay on the ground and I let loose with a kick that hit his ample gut.
"Why?" I hissed, full of anger.
"You…you…jewish loving faggots won't succeed in ruining this country!" The man gasped out, and I felt my anger growing hot again. "Your time is over! We'll clean this country of filth like…"
He didn't get to continue because my booted foot crashed into jaw. He didn't move after that and one of the guardsmen checked his pulse before pronouncing him out like a light. Suddenly I felt ashamed of myself for hitting a handcuffed prisoner, but as I looked away I saw the dead body of Captain Overton, and a medic giving a shot of morphine to Tom, the wounded guardsman.
"If you want to shoot him I'm sure no one will mention that it was after all the excitement was over." Shavers said, and I knew from his tone he was not joking.
"No, he might know something useful." I said and was surprised at how I meant it. I had just considered killing a man in cold blood. Then again, he'd just tried to kill me.
"You know they're being tried under military law now." Shavers said. "It is death by execution for killing an officer like that."
"I'll bring the popcorn." I said and he actually smiled at me. His radio crackled to life and I could hear the report of vehicles coming up the rode. A moment later a helicopter roared by overhead, and more radio traffic came across. He spoke into it urgently for a moment and the helicopter came back over, touching down in the clear area where a short time earlier people had lined up in hope of work.
"Get on the chopper." Shavers told me as soon as it had touched down.
"Get him onboard as well." I ordered, pointing at Tom who was now blissfully unaware of the metal sticking in his back. Shavers locked eyes with me for a moment, saw my determination and nodded. Walters and I helped him lift the injured man and we climbed on board. A crewman strapped me into a seat immediately and the machine took off into the sky. It was my first time on a helicopter, and all I could think of was that it was very noisy. The same crewmember picked up a helmet, handed it to me and then plugged a wire jack into a port on the roof of the cabin. As I put the helmet on, I could hear a voice nearly shouting.
"Dylan, can you hear me?" The voice asked and I recognized it as a very worried Colonel Jacobs. The crewman was pointing to the microphone and a little button on the wire that went from the helmet to the cabin roof.
"Yes, Colonel I can read you five by five." I replied as calmly as I could.
"Are you alright son?" He asked me anxiously.
"I'm fine, sir." I answered immediately. "We've got a wounded guardsman in here though. He took some shrapnel in the back from the exploding humvee. He was on top of me, protecting me."
"Okay, we'll have the helo drop him at the hospital." The Colonel said. "I want to see you in Operations as soon as you're back."
"I'll be there, sir." I said, and leaned back into the seat. The crewman was manning the door gun again, scanning for danger as we headed towards the hospital. I think the crewman almost shot the medical team that rushed towards us, but they approached, transferring the wounded man to a gurney. I took off his grenades and side arm before they left with him, but he was still unconscious. The helicopter took off moments later and rushed towards the Headquarters building. I was trying not to think about how much fuel the aircraft was burning just to get me back to safety. It was the first time that I could remember the machine being ordered into the air since I had been at HQ.
We landed and I was immediately met and escorted by a very anxious looking Sergeant Connors and Corporal Gunderson. As soon as we were inside, Connors pulled me into a rough hug, and then put me at arms length so he could check me over carefully. He brushed his finger along my cheek, and I felt a stinging sensation and was shocked when his finger came back red. Gunderson started swearing and broke out an bandage, tearing part of the gauze and swearing some more when he'd cleaned off some of the blood.
"That's going to require some stitching." He said before taping a bandage over the cut.
"The Colonel is going to be pissed as hell." Connors said. "Let's get moving, he's waiting for you."
The walk to Operations went very quickly because Connors set a very brisk pace. When we entered the darkened room, I ran a quick glance over the screens and winced. There was a full-fledged riot going on at the Northern site. Henry's group though was flagged as returning to base and things seemed pretty calm in that part of town. The police chief was there, standing next to Colonel Jacobs, as was the fire chief and Major Jennings, but when they saw me, I became the focus of everyone's attention. I straightened my posture, crossed to the Colonel, and saluted.
"Cadet Jacobs reporting as ordered, sir." I said firmly, almost wincing when my voice broke halfway through. At least it hadn't broken in the field.
"Your cheek." The Colonel murmured after returning my salute. He reached out a finger to touch it, but I winced away from the touch. He held onto my arm though, and ran his finger through a cut in the sleeve.
"Grazed when the vehicles exploded." I said by way of explanation.
"What happened?" He asked softly, and I noticed all the officers and the civilians were looking at me sharply. I took a deep breath, noticing my cheek was still stinging slightly.
"I'm fairly certain it was a little set-up from our neo-Nazi friends up north." I began. "Things proceeded pretty much as expected until we tried to shut down. A particularly fat man insisted on being processed and tried to instigate trouble. I shut him down verbally and the crowd started to disperse. Captain Overton and I were…we were talking because I'd kind of overstepped myself and used a bullhorn to keep people from rioting. The man had riled them up pretty good and it felt like a bad situation so I just picked the bullhorn up and said stuff to calm them down."
"That's okay, son." Colonel Jacobs said softly, noticing that I was on the verge of breaking down. His voice soothed me a bit and I took a deep breath before continuing.
"Anyway, the Captain and I were talking and I blushed a bit at something she said and then ducked my head in embarrassment." I had to take another deep breath. "I…I think I felt the bullet passing over my head before it hit her."
That made several people in the room gasp, and the Colonel himself winced.
"You think you were the target?" The Police Chief said in a disbelieving tone.
"Several people made a big deal about me being the Colonel's son." I said quietly but with as firm a tone as I could manage. "Including the fat guy. When Sergeant Shavers returned with prisoners, one of them was the fat guy and he had been holding a scoped rifle when they caught him. He's still alive so I'm sure we'll be able to question him."
"Major Jennings." The Colonel said in a firm voice. "My boys aren't to be sent out again."
"Sir, I think that might not be right response." I said slowly, and winced when he looked back at me, a fierce and protective expression on his face. That touched me that he cared so much for me.
"Why is that, son?" He asked me in a low voice.
"No matter what we do, people are going to hear about this, they're going to know what happened today and no matter how we spin it, a lot of people will assume I was a target because I'm your son and I was there." I answered. "If it seems like we're afraid of crap like this, then that will hurt public confidence more than anything else and we can't afford that right now."
"I'll consider it." The Colonel said after looking at me for a moment. "Get your wound looked at by the doctor downstairs."
"Yes sir." I replied, saluting before I left. Connors and Gunderson were immediately at my side.
"Let me guess, I'm going to be shadowed everywhere I go for a few days." I said softly as we walked towards the doctor's office.
"Don't even try to sneak away." Connor's words were all the answer I needed.
"Don't you even think of walking out that door, Dylan Jacobs!" Henry's voice was sharp, and held threatening overtones that made me bristle. For a split second, my hand tightened on the door knob, but I couldn't twist it open because there was also pain in that voice.
"Why not, Henry?" I asked in a tired, numb voice. We were still in the dress uniforms we'd worn to Captain Overton's funeral.
"Because I'm going to talk to you and you are going to listen." He said, and I turned around to face his angry expression, but instead I just saw hurt there.
"I…look, everyone around me is dying." I said softly, far more softly than anything else I'd said in the last three days. "It's better for me if I don't get too close to people. It'll hurt less. That's all it is. I just don't want to hurt this much."
"It's far too late for that, bro." Henry said. "You're a part of my life, and dad's, and mom's and many other people as well. Pulling back, not sharing what you're going through is going to do no one any good. We're here for you, bro. You can lean on us. We won't break."
"But what about when you're not there?" I asked, and he winced. "I have to depend on me and me alone."
"Bullshit." Henry said and this time I winced at him actually cussing at me. "No man is an island. You know those quotes as well as I do. Look, you and I, man, we have both have read a bunch of stuff, but now we have to live it for real. Life isn't fair, we both know that, and with all this crap going down, we're getting dumped on a lot. You know as well as I do why we're targets, why dad is a target. Why mom would be if she stuck her head out of the church. We just have to learn to live with it, and with each other. You pulling in on yourself, not sharing what you're feeling isn't going to save anyone, and it won't help you feel better if any of us die as well, or if Sergeant Connors or Gunderson or any of the others end up dead. All it means is you'll be suffering alone and not doing what you can to make things better."
"You sound like the Colonel." I said, and he chuckled.
"That's because it's what he said to me last night when you didn't come to dinner." Henry told me and I shook my head in defeat. He stepped close to me, and wrapped his arms around me. That was all it took and I was leaning on him, sobbing into my friend's shoulder like a little baby.
"She…she…" I stuttered through the sobs as I remembered Captain Overton's face as she realized she'd been shot.
"It's okay, Dylan." Henry murmured softly as he held me tightly for a while. "She's out of this mess now, and in a better place."
That sentence hung in the air for a long time as I continued to cry into my best friend's shoulder. Even while I was crying though, it made me think about my beliefs. If I believed in God didn't I believe in Heaven as well? I remembered seeing Captain Overton at the services here on base, and hearing her beautiful voice singing, still audible over the mass of men's voices that surrounded her, and the peaceful, gentle look she had on her face during the Chaplain's sermons. Yes, more likely than not she was in heaven. She'd been a believer, and a good woman as well. Henry's words about why the Baptists so loved professions of faith came back to me, and I added another one to his list.
Knowing that a person believed the same as you also was a comfort because you knew you'd see them again in heaven.
Unfortunately, my brain immediately moved onto thoughts of my dead parents, and my sisters as well, and a feeling of despair rose through me at the thought. Would I see them again in heaven when I too died? I didn't know, I wasn't sure, and that made me cry a little harder until I realized that there was nothing that could be done about that now.
The days that followed the funeral of Captain Overton marked a change in my life for me, and a growing gap between Henry and I. He'd been affected by the death of Captain Overton as well, and the deaths of many that had followed the beginning of the crisis, but for him they were still mostly abstract concepts and moments of missing someone not there. The only death he'd faced first hand had been that of an enemy, a person he didn't know, who was trying to hurt someone we did know. He hadn't seen the face of someone he knew and cared about stretch in surprise at their impending death, hadn't seen their body collapse to the ground and he hadn't experienced the feelings of realizing that they were gone at that exact moment.
It was a difference between us that I was perfectly happy existed because it was something I wanted never to experience again.
Three days after Captain Overton's funeral, the Colonel himself accompanied me and several squads of troops to the site where the attack had been made and established a second round of registrations for potential workers. It was almost a holiday atmosphere as entire families showed up to see us. Security was extremely tight, everyone coming near the registration area was searched for weapons, nearby buildings were patrolled for snipers, and pipe bombs like that that had blown up the humvee were especially hunted for in the crowd. As darkness approached I climbed into a humvee, staring at the piles of letters, cards, and other small items people had brought and handed to me and wondered just exactly what the represented.
On the way back to base, we stopped to see the Guardsmen who had taken a piece of metal in the back when he had tackled me to the ground. The doctors had said his spinal cord was indeed nicked by the metal, and that new drugs had once existed that would enable him to walk again, but the hospital did not have a supply of them. Truth be told, they were nearly out of many medicines and if it had not been for National Guard troops going through every pharmacy in town and collecting what hadn't already been looted, they would have run out a long time ago.
When we were talking to Tom, the injured Guardsman, and the Colonel had placed a bronze star on his hospital gown, the man told me not worry. He would have been glad to take the injury for anyone, but he was especially proud that he'd been able to protect me. I silently wondered what I was to be worthy of that type of sacrifice, and vowed to myself to make myself worthy.
Before we left, the Colonel had a long talk with the man's doctors. Two days later, a large supply of the medicine they needed arrived from Sacramento. It was more than enough to treat the injured man and restore his ability to walk. No one mentioned the three other spinal cord injuries in the same ward, and that they would never walk again. I thought about them once, and realized I really would rather see Tom walk again.
In mid-October, a US Carrier Battle Group engaged a combined fleet of British, French, and Indian ships in the Indian Ocean. There were only a handful of ships from Britain and France, the entire Indian Navy had sortied out of port, with both their aircraft carriers the centerpiece of the combined fleet. Two American destroyers and an American frigate went to the bottom of the sea, with most of their crews. Every single Indian, French, and British ship joined them in the bottom, with a reported loss of life on their side as being over 8,000. An additional three hundred land-based aircraft were shot down as well.
After re-supplying from a nearby replenishment group, the US carrier moved north and began bombing Iranian ports and anti-ship missile installation along the Straits of Hormuz. Two days later, three tankers left the United Arab Emirates, bound for the United States and guarded by a flotilla of American warships. A week after that, they were in the Atlantic Ocean, and US carrier battle group from the US mainland joined them.
One day later they were attacked by a battle group of French, British, German, and Russian ships. All three British carriers, both French carriers, and all the other ships in the fleet were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic, although they had extracted a terrible price, the USS Ronald Reagan was sunk by a Russian submarine that had somehow penetrated the screening ships surrounding the carrier. Two cruisers, a destroyer, and a frigate were also lost from the American fleet, nearly 7,000 sailors dead in less than three hours.
Four more submarines were sunk before the tankers made their way back to port with the limping, damaged American warships. The only good news was that America still had nine more nuclear powered carriers while those that opposed us had none. The only real remaining danger was land-based aircraft, straggler ships that had not been engaged in the battle, and of course submarines.
On the first day of November, Henry and I read a purloined copy of the District Commander's updates that told of a submarine wolfpack attack on Pacific military forces. In that attack, twelve US Navy surface combatants, two carriers, and three amphibious assault ships were sunk. Twelve Russian, British and French submarines were immediately sunk in return, but the damage had been done and the US Pacific Fleet was severely crippled. Naval units were pulling back to ports along the West Coast. Only the Alaska-California tanker routes would be continued.
We also learned that all the US Forces in Japan had been captured and/or sunk the week before, something the US government only learned when they lost contact with them and re-tasked a satellite to take pictures. A non-nuclear carrier had been sunk, along with all of its escorts, and the marines on Okinawa were either prisoners or dead.
The only good news from that front was that China and Japan had traded shots with each other over a tanker that China tried to seize before it arrived in Japan. The Japanese navy, armed with America's best weapon systems, had crushed the Chinese navy totally. Chinese land-based aircraft had struck back, sinking several Japanese vessels, the tanker itself, and several Japanese coastal had suffered heavy damage from Chinese bombers.
The Mexican front was going better as well. After losing thousands of soldiers to US warplanes and shore bombardment by naval vessels, the Mexican army collapsed on itself and a second Marine task force landed in Mexican ports. The few British and Russian subs in the Caribbean were found and sunk before they did any more damage, and tankers were preparing to steam back to the US, filled with valuable oil.
Things locally were going better as well. The canneries that we had been working so hard at getting into production came online in mid-October and their first food products were loaded into trucks for local distribution a day later. By the end of October, trains were arriving in downtown for the first time in years (they were far more economical on fuel than big rig trucks and much easier to guard). They left the next day, carrying desperately needed feed to Bakersfield (where most of our fuel was coming from) and to Sacramento (the capitol). The week after that, food was being shipped to the Bay Area for the first time since all this had begun.
Reports of near starvation from the tech-heavy, and agriculturally poor Bay Area had become common news. It was only the heavy hand of Guard and Army units that kept the place in any semblance of order, and daily riots were common. Surprisingly, the first food shipments didn't cause more riots. Instead, people who had been convinced they were starving to death suddenly saw hope when the trains arrived, and things calmed down tremendously after that. People who, the day before, had been trying to kill soldiers now tried to hug and kiss them, and asked what they could do to help.
Everyone was shocked by that reaction.
On the second Sunday of November, two-thirds of our city sat in their living rooms, their electric lights turned on for the first time since September, and watched the first non-news centered broadcast on television, a live broadcast of Colonel Jacobs' sermon during the Sunday service at his church.
Ever since that day Henry had confronted me in our room, and kept me from pulling back in on myself, away from those that cared about me, I had taken to having dinner with Colonel Jacobs and Major Jennings whenever the Colonel was on base. I had discovered a desire to understand religion, and God, and we spent many hours of those dinners discussing theology, religious group dynamics, and many other similar topics.
I knew that he saw I was genuinely interested, not just doing it for appearance's sake, and we began to grow closer. Henry came to several of these dinners, but often remarked it the discussion topics weren't all that interesting for him, so he would often eat in the Officers Mess and discussing other things with the men and women there. Despite this growing difference between us, Henry and I remained close friends, and refused to allow them to negatively affect our close friendship, and our brotherhood.
Our military training intensified as well after Captain Overton's death. We lost an hour of sleep in the morning to an additional hour of physical training. Our morning duty shifts in the Operations Center was cancelled and we began to take courses in military leadership, tactics, and strategy from a rotating group of officers on the base. Even Colonel Jacobs and Major Jennings took turns teaching these course in everything from how to issue orders to a squad of troops, to figuring out what supplies were needed for your unit and how to assure proper supply lines.
We also began hand-to-hand combat training with Sergeant Connors and his squad, who had now been assigned as a permanent security detail to the Jacobs family. Two squad members were constantly stationed at the church to guard Mrs. Jacobs, two assigned to the Colonel, and two more each for Henry and I. More difference between Henry and I were becoming apparent as the new training continued.
I was definitely a better shot than Henry would ever likely be. I was also very proficient at every firearm they showed us, and taught us how to use. Henry was extremely proficient when it came calling in artillery and coordinating movement of forces (as in the command center). He had an excellent head for spatial coordinating, telling me that he could actually see a map in his head when he worked on those problems. He was also better at figuring out supply needs and similar types of operations.
When it came to actually attacking a target, or blowing something up, however, I was the best. An army demolitions expert was sent down for a week from Sacramento and I spent the entire week tailing him as much as I could, learning everything he would teach me about explosives and by the end of the week I was able to lay out exactly how I'd blow up any building we came across. When we practiced squad maneuvers, or house searches, or ambush engagements, I far outclassed Henry on effective command of the situation, and even had several soldiers tell me they'd rather have me in command during a firefight than their squad lieutenants.
I thought they were joking until Major Jennings asked me during a dinner to please stop showing up the junior officers. He was worried that their squads would lose faith in them, and that could get people killed in combat. I was stunned at the comment, but agreed immediately.
Our lessons with the civilian professors were also going extremely well. In almost two months we had completed almost two semesters worth of college curriculum. Don't get the wrong impression, we didn't just breeze through them. I almost failed several tests on advanced algebra the first time I took them, and did fail a geometry test. Henry of course passed them all easily. My English skills improved dramatically though, and all my essays received higher marks than Henry's. I also did better than him in the chemistry lab sections, and theory tests as well while he outstripped me in the computer programming section we took for two weeks.
The night before Thanksgiving, Mrs. Jacobs arrived at the base for dinner. It was the first time she had ever been here, and we were both surprised when we walked into the Colonel's office for dinner and she was there, hugging us both. We'd received a message earlier that day that dinner would be mandatory for us both, and we'd been expecting it somewhat since one of our civilian professors had remarked the Colonel was requiring progress reports on our studies.
"Well boys," The Colonel said as we finished our dessert. During dinner most of the conversation had been with Mrs. Jacobs as she questioned us on how things were going, and told us stories about events at the church over the last week. "I've got a lot of news to share with you tonight, and we have some decisions to make as a family."
"We wanted to make sure that you both were included on these decisions." Mrs. Jacobs said with a very big smile. "We want you both to be active in deciding your future."
"Yes, Wilma, exactly." The Colonel said with a broad smile. I felt a little bit of worry gnawing at me. I'd become very comfortable of the last few weeks and the idea of change wasn't one that I was comfortable with. "As you know, most of the City is now enjoying electricity again, we have a public transportation system operating again, and after much discussion with the Mayor and with Central Command, we're about to take even more steps to return our city to normal operations. The military will still be in control, but the civilian government is going to resume a lot of their normal functions, including starting up the schools again."
"Oh." I said, sitting back with wide eyes. School, normal school again. As much as I'd fought to stay in regular school in the past, the idea of returning to it now made me very uncomfortable.
"I see that neither of you like that idea." The Colonel said with a broad smile. "We were going to offer you the choice of going back to your civilian school if you wanted, but I don't think you do."
"Definitely not." Henry said firmly and I nodded. Both of the adults laughed at that.
"Fine, then, you'll continue your education here as you have been doing." The Colonel said with a smile. "The college professors have all insisted that they continue teaching you both as well. They seem to really like you both. The college won't open for classes until late January, and they all insist that they'll make sure they don't have classes during the time frames that they've been teaching you."
"That, that's nice." I said in a small voice. I knew the professors had at first resented teaching two kids, and that lately they had all seemed happy whenever they taught us in their rotating schedules. I had no idea though that they'd felt that strongly about us.
"Dylan, your humility is something I hope you never lose." Mrs. Jacobs said with a very fond smile and I felt myself blushing again.
"Now, on to some of the other changes." The Colonel said. "I've got some more good news. I'm being promoted. Next week we will all go to Sacramento with the food shipment. I'm getting my General's star."
"Congratulations dad!" Henry said at the same time I said "Way to go sir!"
"Thanks boys." He said with a fond smile. "Major Jennings is also being promoted to Lt. Colonel, but I'll do that in a ceremony here after we get back. The other news is that I'm being called to Washington the first week of December. Of all the states that have stayed loyal (Idaho and Colorado had joined Utah in declaring independence and would have to be dealt with once things were over), California has gotten the closest to getting back on its feet, and of all the Districts in California, we've done the best. The President is wants to transfer General Sonnerfield, who you both met, to Washington and have him work with other State Commanders and improving their operations. I'm looking at being transferred to Sacramento and acting as Deputy Commander for the State. If that happens, that means we'll be leaving this District behind, and moving to the state capitol. We want to know what you think. I can refuse the transfer based on a desire to make sure this District works smoothly, but in all honesty if I do that, I'll never get a promotion offer like this again."
"How would this move affect our education?" Henry asked, voicing my same concern.
"If you move with us to Sacramento, like we want, we'll set something similar up for you there. The only difference is they have several four-year colleges in the area and the professors we get for you there will likely be much more knowledgeable than those here." Mrs. Jacobs said.
"You'd also continue your Cadet duties like you have here." The Colonel said with a smile. "The only difference is that there they worry about state-wide operations instead of just this one district. There's also a lot of coordination with the regular military forces, and interactions between Army, Navy, and Marine forces as well. You'll get to see that, and maybe participate in those functions as well."
"It sounds like all of us get something out of it." I asked, and then realized one negative. "What about the church?"
"Pastor Thurell is more than capable and willing to take over." Mrs. Jacobs said. "I've already spoken with the Church leaders and they'll consider dad as being "on leave" until his duties are completed."
"I think we should do this." Henry said, and I nodded in agreement.
"I think we'll all get a lot of out of this." I added.
"Thanks boys." The Colonel said with a smile. "You know, we have a lot to be thankful for this year, far more than I had ever dreamed."
"We do." I said with a smile. We watched the national news broadcast that night, and the Colonel had a big surprise for us. There was a ten minute segment on our town, and about half of those ten minutes was focused on Colonel Jacobs, and us, his family. I groaned aloud and blushed when they showed pictures of me working with the Colonel at the registration site. Henry had laughed until they showed a picture of him in Operations working as a controller. Then it was my turn to laugh. The whole broadcast was meant to show an American city getting back on its feet, a shining example that life would soon be returning to normal all across the nation.
None of us had any idea of just important that broadcast was, and how much it would change the course of the world in ways even bigger than the September broadcast by the President had been.
None of us knew that the coming dawn would blow away the last vestiges of the old world, and I for one didn't know what forces of change were ready to sweep in a new era.