“Damn, that woman sure knows how to start a day . . .” Sid MacDonald looked at the notes he’d taken over the past 20 minutes or so. Where a “normal” person would have been tempted to let the leading edge of terror creep into their souls . . . Sid simply saw data. Numbers, distances, supplies, time . . . It led to the same place – fear and terror that would have to be faced and conquered. He simply “saw” it differently.
“Getting too old for this shit – too damn old!! Sid said, to no one in particular.
“Pardon me sir??” His assistant turned
“Nothing Phil – just talking to myself. Could you go scare up some coffee? Then we have some work to do.” Sid was already making notes that would guide the next few hours.
“Yes sir, back in a bit.” And Phil headed towards the HQ Mess to find a fresh pot and a couple of cups – he needed a bit of a morning pick-up too.
Sid MacDonald had just turned 66 . . . there were mornings he felt like 86. He’d run across E back during the Africa campaign where he filled the very same slot he did on this very morning – intel for her Marine unit. It was an odd pairing back then – an Air Force “Light” Colonel and a Marine rifle company. Yet – the military had been stretched so very tight, talented people were simply matched – need vs. talent. And Sid had a true knack for making the daily waterfall of intel into something that was “actionable”. He had picked what turned out to be E’s first “hit”. Something he had not found out until nearly three decades later. He hadn’t started out that way, his first love was being a fighter “jock”.
He began his military career as a F22 Raptor pilot. He was assigned to one of the last active squadrons back in the late 30s. It’s had been a storied aircraft but he loved how it flew. It could turn on a dime, was nearly invisible and could “take shit” to virtually any other aircraft in the air at the time – and come away the winner every time. It was not without its problems. What bit Sid in the ass was the O2 system – a problem for the entire lifetime of the aircraft. Countless millions of dollars and a handful of engineering companies had tried to cure the source of “Raptor Lung” – a debilitating lung infection/irritant/carcinogen – it had never been identified. But, the reality was that for pilots who “made a living” flying the Raptor – they had a better than even chance of having their lungs well and truly fucked over. Sid had gotten off easy. He still hacked up a “fir ball” every now and then – but it did little to slow him down. He had planted a handful of friends who were not so lucky.
Once he showed early on-set of “Raptor Lung” – the squadron commander decided that there was an open slot in intel – and Sid had found his true calling. His stop over with the Marines had simply been one of many in his lifetime.
After his retirement he returned to the part of his country he loved – the very middle of North Dakota. While some shunned it barrenness – he relished in it. As the swarms grew and the raiders took hold – it became a sanctuary for many and evolved into the headquarters for the Midwest Defense Region. And, once again, he answered the call – and filled his ever familiar slot of Chief Intelligence Officer.
“Here ya go sir!” Phil returned with a couple of mugs and a large insulated coffee carafe. It was enough to get them both going.
“Thanks Phil. See if the “old man” is in.” Sid smiled – hell he had over 20 years on the “old man”. “Yes sir, give me a sec.” Phil walked to his desk and picked up the phone . . . “Is he in? . . . . IO MacDonald needs to talk to him . . . . It’s about Moses. Understand, 20 minutes, I’ll pass it on, thank you.”
“20 minutes sir – he’s not in, but Moses is one of his “come get my ass” topics, it’ll be 20 minutes.” Moses was a quickly growing threat and had been “on the chart” for the past 6 months. St. Louis had gone to shit decades ago but had caused little trouble. As dependence on river traffic grew due to fuel shortages and a decaying infrastructure – St. Louis took on an increased importance – but remained, for all intents and purposes, lawless. A handful of years ago a presence known only as “Moses” had appeared. Using brutal strength, the demand for unquestioning loyalty and a strange “religious” appeal – he had grown steadily stronger. As things stood today, he “owned” a significant amount of real-estate with his influence extending from around 50 miles north of Hannibal to about 50 miles south of St. Louis. Sid’s sources confirmed his hunger to control more and his intent to rule from the river to 63 and from 70 to as far north as he could establish control.
It appeared that he was making his move.
“Headed out Phil, you know where to find me.”
The walk across the Quad was a warm one. It had been a hot, dry summer through the Midwest and that had a tendency to stir up trouble, not that Moses needed much “stirring”. He had been on this campus decades ago – in quieter times. What had once been knows as Williston State College had been transformed into the central nerve center for the MRD. The location was its primary reason for being chosen to hold the MRD’s command. Located on the shores of the western most edge of Lake Sakakawea – it was easily secured, located near an abundant source of power from the Garrison Dam and was in a region that had enormous resources of both crude oil and natural gas. Nearly a generation earlier the discovery of the Baaken Oil Field had set the US on the road to oil independence. Refineries had naturally followed. In the world of 2093 – North Dakota was the single richest region on the face of the earth (at least that was still inhabitable). With the splintering of America, the Midwest Region had consolidated during the mid to late 70s and resource rich North Dakota provided a natural place to centralize the force that had developed to protect the area that had come to be known as the Midwest Defense Region. While there had been roaming raiding parties throughout the Midwest – most had long-since been handled by MDR. Moses was an entirely different threat altogether. And, if the intel he had gotten from E was anywhere near accurate – Moses had decided to “make his play”. The MDR force would have to act – the sooner, the better.
General Max “stonewall” Jackson sat behind his desk draining his 3rd cup of the morning. He’d been in the shower when his chief-of-staff came in saying that Sid needed to talk with him ASAP. Morning chores completed, he put on his BDUs and headed to the office and the fresh pot of coffee that he knew would be waiting.
In his early 40s, “Max” was one of the new generation of military that had shifted their primary loyalties from the national level to the regional level. Their thinking was natural – if their home town, home state – and their neighbors went to shit . . . there was no “nation”. The majority of his combat experience had come in the defense of the MDR – not some remote continent at the behest of a government that had long since lost sight of its primary purpose, the defense of its citizenry. The final raids of the early 70’s had been desperate. In North Dakota – the gem of the center was the Garrison Dam and the hundreds of megawatts of power it generated. As it turned out, it was a jewel a bit too far out of reach. Max mounted a final defense that had become known as Max’s “stonewall” and provided that last straw that broke the back of the raiders. It was almost cliché that he would be called “Stonewall” Jackson – or “Stoney”. But, honestly – he considered it a great honor considering the strength shown by his namesake. He would have more than enough time in the coming months to, once again, prove his leadership.
“Morning Sir, got a few?” Sid came into his office, a portfolio under his left arm and a large mug in his right.
“Morning Sid – what kind of shit are you laying on my desk this early in the morning?”
Max watch Sid for any clues as to what was headed his way – Sid was all business. “Not good, not good at all.” He thought.
Sid settled in, set his coffee aside and briefed Max. He passed on all the intel E had gathered from the raider scouts and his own from his resources closer to St. Louis. He added his suggestions of spinning up local defense forces on the northeast border of Missouri with Iowa and then reviewed what he knew of their local resources. He spoke non-stop – knowing that Max would interrupt if he wanted additional details. Between pages of brief and draining his mug, the entire process took about 20 minutes with Max taking notes along the way.
“That’s it sir, the whole nine yards.” Sid sat silent and let Max digest his brief.
Finally . . . “It’s not unexpected – we knew Moses was consolidating and looking north. Any idea why now? What’s pushing him?”
Sid gathered his thoughts for a moment . . . “This is just my speculation sir, but it makes sense. He’s been building his forces over the past year or so – and he’s put on a real surge the past six months or so. As dry as it’s been – I suspect food is a large part of his reason. Mouths require food – and army requires more food. And if the troops get restless – they may switch loyalties. While Moses is as ruthless as it gets – he still needs his army focused on distance goals, not local. He survived the past year’s power struggle and simply slaughtered his opponents, many in public and some of the more aggressive ones in man-on-man single combat. He is a mean mother sir – as tough as they get.”
“If my sources are right, he intends to control everything north of 70 and east of 63 and then north. This would be a sizable “fiefdom” and one with the capability of feeding an army far beyond the size of his current one. He’ll also be able to exert significant control over travel from east to west and along the Mississippi. Hell, he’s already a factor in river traffic. As for extending north, if he can control that whole corridor – he’d be one of the most powerful men in the US. I suspect he sees that as a worthy goal.”
Sid nodded towards Max’s coffee pot – “I could use a refill sir, like one too?” Sid rose, Max slid his empty mug in Sid’s direction and Sid topped them both off and once again took his seat.
“Sid, when can we question these raiders from IA37? I’d like a chance to wring them out ourselves.” Max didn’t mind intel gathered by others – he just liked to confirm things himself.
“Sorry sir – perhaps the best way to say this is that none of the raiders survived their attack on IA37. E was lucky to get what she got.” Sid was under no illusion as to what had transpired – E had been brutally honest with him.
“Are you trying to say her interrogation techniques were fatal?” Max knew the raw hate people of the MDR had for raiders and swarms – honestly he expected nothing else. Still, it would have been nice for confirmation by their interrogation team . . . even if the final result had been the same.
“Yes sir. She lost a grandson to these assholes a couple years back. Skinned him alive. If any of Moses’s raiders make it to her region of responsibility – they’ll die . . . period. Their tats declare “No Mercy” . . . and she takes them at their word.” Sid wondered how Max would take this revelation.
“You know this woman – worked with her in Africa if I remember your stories. Tell me about her. Is she as tough as I hear? She has quite a reputation to live up to.” Max suspected he would hear quite a bit more about - and out of - this woman over the next few months.
“Yes sir, she’s tough as nails – hell, she “chose” her husband in a fox hole during the very first swarms of ‘51, fighting back-to-back, weapons empty with nothing but hatchets and kabars. They walked out alive and have spent the rest of their lives together ever since. Story has it she split one’s skull clean in half. She means what she says when says she’ll kill every raider that comes after her “family” . . . and her family is everyone in her entire county. She’s quite a woman sir, quite a woman.” A smile formed as he remembered her and looked back at Max.
“Isn’t she connected with Defense Technologies is some way? Hell, most our carbines are their M4 model. The fact that they’re manufactured right next door give us a real leg-up in firepower.” It was a fact that Max appreciated more than he could express – while many similar defense forces had sprung up across the country – now many were as well armed as they were, and DT was a major player in that equation.
“Yes sir, you could say that . . . her family owns DT . . . lock, stock and barrel. They’ve owned it since ’50, just before the first swarms sprung up after D.C. It’s been in the family ever since. It’s her “ace in the hole” when it comes to defending her home.”
Max just sat and shook his head . . . “She owns it, holy shit.” He thought.
“Alright then Sid . . . she’s a woman I’d like to meet some day. So, you’re the plan’s guy – I can’t imagine you haven’t wrung this out four ways from Sunday, what do you have for me.” Max had worked with Sid for too many years to not know how his mind worked . . . and he was usually spot on. He leaned back to listen to Sid’s “sales pitch”.
“Alright sir, here are my preliminary thoughts . . .” and with that Sid launched into a 45 minute brief of his plan. Wrapping up he said . . .”I need to update final strength numbers – both active and reserve, tweak fuel store levels – ammunition-and supply info, but I’m nearly there. Sir, we need to do this – Moses is an existential threat to the Midwest. He – and his forces – need to be removed from the board, plain and simple. It will confirm that bad actors will not be tolerated, it will reassure the folks who live here that we will defend them and it will attract those who are looking for safe haven to come here – and God knows we could use the help. Now is as good a time as any to take this asshole on!” Sid knew he was right . . . he hoped Max was on the same page.
“Understood . . . thank you for your usual thorough job. Command brief right after lunch – let’s say 13:30. Notify all command elements – and I do mean everybody – that I expect them to drop what they are doing and be there. We are going to take Moses on . . . this will be his first . . . and last . . . . campaign.”
And with that . . . it was “on”.