Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Twelfth chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


      Minutes later, out in the parking lot, they approach the HumVee.
“You expect us to be able to escape the forces of evil in this relic?” Smitty laughed.
“Careful! She’s sensitive.” Mars cautioned with a chuckle. “By the way, this was Ms MacDougal’s work truck.”
“How did you get hold of it?”
“I was a San Diego cop, remember?” Mars smiled a sly smile and held the keys in his open palm. “It’s actually a lot better vehicle than it looks like.”
Mars and Smitty drove away in the HumVee. Mars was at the wheel. He drove toward the freeway, fast. Mars got on the I-80 westbound and sped across town. A heavily used freeway, I-80 was in almost as bad repair as 94, down in San Diego. He turned down Old 99, southbound.
      “No! Cut across here, to the airport,” Smitty pointed as they approached Fruitridge.
      Mars maintained his speed without hesitation. “We'll never get away in your plane. They’d shoot us down before we got a hundred miles. We'll take the freeway.”
      The HumVee raced south to get out of town as fast as possible.
“Think they won't be watching the freeways?”
      “Old 99 has plenty of escape routes, all the way to Los Angeles--or into the desert.”
      As they rolled along Old 99, they found that it was in really good shape. Less use, apparently. They were out of the Sacramento urban area in a matter of minutes.
      Mars wondered briefly whether the punk was still stranded in Galt as they passed the road leading to the little town. Since traffic was nearly nonexistent late at night between the larger towns, they were able to make very good time.
      “Ok. I've sent the data to Governor Hancock and your boss.” Smitty said, sitting back in the seat. He briefly closed his eyes, tired. “They can look it over, compare it with what they know about the California military, and make defense plans.”
As the HumVee rumbled through the southern edges of Modesto, a pair of headlights appeared in the rear view mirror. Mars noted the lights, was undisturbed. While traffic was very light in the wee hours, there was always the odd trucker or late-night traveler. He said nothing. Smitty, operating the in-dash computer, noticed nothing.
      “What's the rest of their plan?” Mars asked.
      “After they capture Pedro’s Power station, they plan to redirect the microwave beam to a ground station of their own, to both steal the station and its power output. Then, while Freestate is without most of its electrical generating capacity, they plan to follow up immediately with another surprise military attack.”
      “How could they pull that off? They're cash strapped. Where are they gonna get a space ship?” Mars looked briefly at his passenger. “Freestate is rich, and tons of technology. There has to be more to this. You do have an army--?”
      “Militia. Volunteers.”
      Smitty looked up. “We take it seriously, and we're good. It's just not our whole life. Plus, virtually the whole of the population goes armed.”
      “It is their whole life.”
      “Not really,” Smitty continued. “Theirs is a strictly gun controlled state. Almost no one handles weapons until he enlists. It’s much better to learn firearms handling and safety as a child.
“It’s almost universal that parents either teach their kids how to handle firearms safely and effectively. Most schools have self defense programs. I started....”
      Lights flashed behind them. Smitty looked back.
Mars floored it. “I’ve been watching him. We'll outrun him.”
      “Can't outrun a radio.”
      “CHP's stretched thin in this part of the state. Probably not another one within twenty miles.”
      “They could get local cops to help?”
      “Agreed. Before we get to Turlock, we’ll get off 99 and take secondary roads. I know my way around here pretty well.”
      Mars made a sudden turn onto a side road. The patrol car, still a good distance behind, followed.
      “For a truck, this thing's surprisingly fast.”
      “He's still there, and now he has a friend.”
      Mars drove on calmly, unperturbed. “Well, we’ll have to see how well they drive off-road.”
      The HumVee sped along a two-lane paved road. Two CHP cruisers followed, sirens wailing and lights flashing. Mars made a sudden turn onto an unpaved farm road, placing a stand of trees between the HumVee and the pursuing police. As he made the move, he reached for the headlight switch, bumping another nearby switch with the side of his hand.
When the two police cruisers made the turn, headlight beams, as shown in the dust left by the HumVee’s passage, bounced wildly up and down, side to side. As the HumVee’s headlights went out, the steering wheel suddenly came loose in Mars’ hands.
      “Whoa, shit!”
As Mars reflexively pulled the steering wheel toward his chest, the HumV servos whined and the car changed. The vehicle left the ground and began gaining altitude.
“What the fuck!? I hit a switch with my hand as I turned the lights out, and the truck went airborne!”
      “Cool! This damn thing's a convertible! Keep lifting. They'll never figure out what happened to us.”
      There were clicks of switches and whines of motors. The dash rolled up to reveal the aircraft-style instrument panel.
      “This thing can fly? I don't know how to fly a plane. You take over.”
      “You're flying it, and doing pretty well so far.” Smitty said. “Make all your moves carefully and gently until you get the hang of it. I’ll navigate, and I’ll guide you when need it. These are a lot easier to fly than old fashioned airplanes.”
Smitty reached over and flipped some switches and made adjustments on a pair of screens that lit up on his side of the dash. “Pull the yoke toward you to climb, away to dive--but gently. Otherwise, drive it like a car. I’ll help you. Turn the wheel slightly to the right.”
From the apparent movement of the lights on the ground and the feel of the HumVee, told Mars that they were describing a slow right-hand curve. He turned left, and swept back over to the left. Smitty spent a few minutes helping him understand the controls, and schooled him in the functions of the dials and gauges on the new dashboard that had appeared.
It was a clear night, and dark; the Cheshire cat moon already having set. The faint light from the stars was all he had to see by, and the sparse lights on the ground.
“I can’t see very much....”
“There’s not much to see. Watch your altimeter,” Smitty pointed. “And your heading. Keep between 250 and 270 degrees. We’ll head for the ocean.”
      The craft continued to gain altitude.
      “How high should I go?”
      “Maybe we'd better get down a bit lower, so's not to get picked up by anybody’s radar.” Smitty pointed out a couple of slow-flashing red lights in the distance. “See those lights? They’re on top of towers, tall buildings--stuff like that. Go above ‘em, not between ‘em. And keep an eye out for the lights of other aircraft. Have you figured out how to get speed out of her yet?”
Mars took his foot off the gas pedal, airspeed dropped. He pressed down, more speed.
      “Yeah. I think I like this flying stuff!”
      “There are sensors and beacons in the car that warn against obstacles and hazards, but they'll only work in Freestate....but our radar works. You’re not accustomed to interpreting the radar yet, so I’ll do that. You’ll just use your eyes, for now.”
      “How low?”
“Bring her down to about five hundred feet. Gradually. That should put us about three hundred or so from the ground. I'll watch radar and you keep it as low and as fast as you can without hitting anything. Watch for flashing red lights until we get over....Whoa! Climb!”
      The pale shadow of a broken line materialized in windshield. Suddenly realizing that it was a ridgeline, Mars pulled back hard on the yoke.  Simultaneously, there was an explosion near the top of the ridge, just as the HumVee passed over.
      “Shit!” Mars yelled. “Gimme a little warning! You were supposed to tell me about hills and stuff.”
“Sorry! I was watching you instead of the radar.”
“And what was that fire?”
      “How about doing a little evasive action? I think that was an air-to-air.”
      “An air-to-air missile?!” Mars looked around, but there was nothing to see. “Why didn't it chase us?”
      “Air cars don't radiate much heat. Apparently it was an old-fashioned one that didn’t have signature tracking.” Smitty said, also taking a quick look. “Good thing you swerved.”
      Mars turned the wheel to the left, looking for an aircraft.
“I still don't see anything.”
      “Be glad you can't. If he gets close enough to unlimber the Gatling, we're Swiss cheese.”
      Mars swerved back to the right and dove behind the ridge.
      “How're we gonna stay ahead of this guy. We can't see him, and he's sure to be a far better pilot than I am--than I'll ever be!”
      “First, stay low and don’t fly in a....”
      “Hey!” Mars pointed at automobile headlights on the ground ahead. “I’m pretty sure that’s Highway 101!”
Mars headed toward the sparse traffic line below.
      “Can you land this thing?”
      “No time like the present to find out.”
      Smitty pointed. “On the dash, way over to your left, there’ll be a switch. It’ll drop the tires.”
      “Yeah,” Mars flipped the switch. “The same one that got us airborne in the first place.”
      The HumVee swooped down behind an eighteen-wheeler. The tires appeared and the car set down roughly, bounding and swerving. Panels folded away until the vehicle took on the appearance of a HumVee once again. The headlights appeared.
      “As long as he didn't actually see our landing, we're good.”
Smitty heard a helicopter, craned his neck out the side window to look at the sky.
      “There the bastard goes! He's on the same heading as we were.”
      “Good. We'll cruise for a while, then go back up.”
      “Gettin' kinda cocky, now?”
A couple of days later, in between appointments for interviews regarding his trip to California, Mars slid into a pub for a beer or two. He sat on a stool alongside a younger man in a militia uniform. When the drink he ordered was set before him, he turned to the soldier.
“Eric Marlowe. Folks call me Mars. Good job defending the coast,” he said, raising his glass.
“Good to meet you. I’m Corporal Hoshi Nagashima.” They shook hands. The soldier raised his own glass. “It wasn’t much of a battle, once we got mobilized,” he replied. They drank. “We lost some civilians, some of those caught at the landing sites. Sad, but they fought well.”
“Sad, indeed. But they kept the Californians dug in until you guys could get there. Brave folks!”
“Y’know?” the militiaman said, setting his glass on the bar and motioning for a refill, “I hear those California soldiers never get to learn to handle weapons until they actually join their army or get drafted. California established conscription a couple of years ago. How do they expect to put any kind of an army on the ground?”
“Yes. I’m told you start self defense training in your childhood downhere.” Mars said as he turned on his stool toward the younger man.
      “Well, it isn’t exactly as simple as that. Kids whose parents send them to school get training in weapons and hand-to-hand almost from the start. Our parents start teaching us, well, most of us, at a young age, if they aren’t going to send us to school. My mum and pop started me when I was six, with a .22 revolver. I progressed to large-bore rifles and pistols before I started my teens. I took my first buck at fourteen, which pop taught me to skin and dress, and how to tan the hide and butcher the meat for the freezer.
“That was the same year I joined the junior militia and began my military training.”
“Impressive,” Mars said. “You’re a young guy.”
Hoshi took another pull from his glass. “Hoping to be a sergeant after we finish mopping the floor with the Californians.”
Mars found all this very strange. Then, thinking it through, he realized that most great military societies in history taught their youth use of weaponry and tactics and prepared them for war, almost from birth. On the other hand, this was not a military society....or was it?
California youth were taught, at home and in school, to hate and fear weapons of every kind. He knew from first hand experience that it was almost impossible to make a top fighting man out of a California youngster. Most of the younger police officers were afraid of their own handguns.
He varied from almost all Californians in that, as a teenager, he was taken by tales of hiking along the Sierra ridges and the trails running the length of California, through Oregon and Washington into British Columbia. It had become illegal to hike in the Sierras in the early 21st century for reasons of ecology, and because of the danger. The state could be liable for injuries by allowing inexperienced individuals to wander about in an unsecured environment. At the time, a license, with many rules regarding training, size of party, equipment to be allowed and sanitation methods to be employed, was required for short hikes along certain easy-to-reach portions of the wilderness.
Young Mars wanted none of that. He’d read the stories. He’d built animal traps and snares, setting them up in the back yard. He knew what he needed, and already had a lot of it from hikes he’d taken in the Cleveland National Forest during high school vacation periods. He’d worked illegally for months to get a few hundred dollars together to buy a backpack with the necessary gear and a few supplies.
After first buying his way into a day hike with a group from the Bay area, he later went on a three-day hike with a group of individuals, many of whom already had experience in the wild. As they hiked their way along the switchbacks, gaining elevation with each step, Mars observed and learned.
At one point, he slipped away from the group and wandered away on his own. He caught fish and snared small animals when hungry, and gathered nourishing nuts and berries that he’d memorized from his wilderness books at home. He made a game of avoiding the search parties for a full week, before faking a fall and allowing himself to be rescued. Everyone was so happy that he’d miraculously survived his ordeal.
Mars looked into his beer. Because of their inexperience of California’s youth, many guardsmen were recruited from the Midwestern states. More experienced with sporting arms and with the outdoors, they were offered a bonus to leave their home states to work in California. Disastrously, the officers were not.
“You’ve had an interesting upbringing, from my perspective,” Mars said. He took another drink from his glass.
The militiaman continued. “My parents weren’t as good as they thought they were at teaching the academic subjects. I’m bringing myself up to speed now, to fill in the areas in which they weren’t up to date. I’m studying on that in my spare time.”
Mars finished his beer. “You know, I think you’ve made some good choices. We in California should be allowed similar opportunities.”
“My wish is to enhance my life,” said the younger man with a smile. “Every generation better than the last, as they say.”
“Hoshi, in light of recent events, I think it would be good if I became a militiaman. How do I go about that?”
“You’re older than most, but there’s no upper age limit. There’s nothing to it, if you’re fit enough and smart enough not to be washed out. I expect you’ll make it. Be at the Hall Saturday morning at eight. Lysander and Revolucion.” Hoshi pointed. There’s training, then some drilling. After Sarge gets to know you, he’ll recommend a couple of units that might suit your interests. One of the units accepts you, and you it, you’re in.”
“Is that all there is to it?” asked Mars. “How do they decide whether to accept you?”
“Whether the unit’s shorthanded, will be their first priority.” Hoshi motioned to the bartender for two more beers. “You have any military experience? No, you don’t have to tell me. It's the captain who'll want to know.”
“Who’s this “Sarge” you mentioned?”
“Smartest on-the-ground soldier I’ve ever known,” Hoshi replied, respect clear in his eyes, “in my meager experience. He led the squad that held off the Mexican landing at Santa Rosalia in ‘38. He came up with a brilliant strategy, considering how little we knew about their military.”
During the months he’d been living in Freestate, he was continuing to learn how to live in Freestate. The people he met through work, the shop owners and Dos Rios clients he worked with, those at pubs, restaurants, lounges and other public places at which people gather--everyone had a very different outlook. While California working folk seemed depressed and lifeless, or hedonistic and manic, Freestaters appeared enthusiastic and creative. They worked hard at things they enjoyed doing and yet seemed always to have time and money for relaxation when they wanted.
They were immediately armed and ready to go to battle when a fight came to them, and because of this, Freestate was a very peaceful place to live. If there was trouble, it almost always involved a recent immigrant, who wasn’t yet accustomed to living among individuals who took the job of protecting their own lives, families and property as a given.
It was mostly men and women who just happened to be in the area that were able to foil California’s first attack on the west coast. The upcoming one would be a tougher fight, particularly if California succeeded at removing Freestate’s main power source. If their electric power went away, Freestate’s militia would have a very difficult time defeating the California Guard on its second attempt.
 “We fight as individuals. We have a military structure, but we don’t employ the individuality-numbing regimentation that is traditional in most military organizations.”
Mars stood at parade rest in the middle of his platoon of recruits. He was the oldest of the eight men and four women who made up the platoon. His partner at Dos Rios, Annette O’Malley, was one of the women in the platoon. Their Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Bill Preston, Sarge to just about everyone but his wife, stood facing them, hands behind his back, giving part of the recruit orientation to the group.
“We enter a battle zone as a platoon of twelve. We enter with an objective. You will have a partner when going into battle. While each of you is an individual, we fight in pairs. You look out for your partner; he looks out for you. The platoon travels together, and usually pursue the same objective. Pairs work together as we describe in the pre-engagement chalk talk. If a pair sees an unexpected advantage to be taken, you take it. You should keep your sergeant informed, but you don’t have to. Your comsets keep your APC pilot aware of your movements and physical condition.
“Radio communication is easy, though, and we expect platoon members to stay in touch with each other, and with your sergeant and your APC, in case of the unexpected. There’ll be a lot more on this in class, but I want you to know that we aren’t a bunch of marching morons. Your own ideas count. Acting immediately to seize an advantage, without going through command wins battles. We’ve found that this strategy pays off.”
Mars had arrived at the Militia base as advised by the militiaman, Hoshi Nagashima, on Saturday morning next. When Annette learned he was entering the militia, she informed him that she had been planning to join. They began on the same day.
After a short lecture on the nature of the militia and its structure and expectations, he had signed up.
The contract was short and simple, the recruit could resign at any time, except during military conflict. He, or she, would not be paid for his service, except during conflict. “Uniforms, training, battle armor and weapons are to be purchased by the individual, as wanted and needed over time.
“That won’t be as difficult as it sounds. Many businesses give discounts to militia members, most employers give a bonus pay rate and many of our training sessions are sponsored.”
Mars survived three weeks of mostly classroom training on tactics and strategy. Since he disliked sitting at a desk for long periods, he was convinced that the field training would be easier. He was introduced, on video, to the many weapons and armor suits available to Freestate militia members. In his fourth week, the platoons were sent out for field exercises. The first was called “How Not to Get Shot.” He and his platoon were engaged in several live fire scenarios in various kinds of terrain with semi-animated pop-up robots firing back with rubber bullets at line-of-sight sensors in their body armor.
If the live soldier hit the robot, it fell, out of action. If the robot hit the soldier’s body armor, it turned pink. He was out of action. And, it hurt!
Mars’ first few days of live-fire training found him hit three or four times a day. Eventually, he learned to avoid the uncannily accurate fire of the robots most of the time.
After one of his days of training, Mars went to the office to speak with Juanita. She was reading a message on her monitor as he entered. She waved at a chair into which he sat as she talked. She finished the conversation and clicked off.
      “It’s gratifying to see that you’ve enlisted in the Militia,” she said after exchanging greetings. “You’re seeing the value of our way of life.
“While you’ve been in training, the Governor has put his people to work people analyzing Operation Lights Out. They're working on a counterplan.”
      “Analyzing? Counterplan?” Mars laughed. “Shit! I've skimmed through Blue’s Plan. He can't hope to defeat Freestate without an ace-in-the-hole. Taking away Freestate's electric power'd give them the edge they need.”
      “Impossible! We get most of our power from Pedro’s Power. It’s a space station, owned by a norteamericano engineer who set up business here twenty-odd years ago, name of Pedro Goldman”
      “Can the Californians get into space?
      Juanita looked up from her monitor. “Are you kidding? All they have is an ancient NASA shuttle that the feds abandoned at the old Edwards Air Force Base.”
      “Then that’s how they’re gonna do it.” Mars stood up and paced. “I’ll bet they’re fueling the damn’ thing right now. Counterplan, my ass! We have to secure and defend that power station! Tell the governor to get a platoon, at least, up to that space station right fucking now!”
“Governor Hancock doesn't think they're ready to act yet.”
“Governor Hancock sounds like a California-style bureaucrat, to me.” Mars shook his head. “It’s better to secure the place now! It’ll be easier to keep it than it will be to retake it.”
At the same moment in Governor Ballou’s office, Zeno Horiuchi is on the carpet.
      “I had him in my sights!” Horiuchi explained. “He turned suddenly and the bird missed.”
      “Aren't they heat seeking?”
      “Of course. That damn aircar must not radiate much heat. I'm lucky the bird hit the hillside or it might've come back at me.”
      Blue paused, thinking how that might’ve saved him a lot of trouble, later on. He shook off the thought and banged his fist on the desk. “This means Hancock has the plan. We have to push the date of the attack up.” He glared at Horiuchi. “You're supposed to be a fucking professional.”
      “They just disappeared.” Horiuchi was still confused by the incident. “They must’ve crashed into the ocean. If they didn’t, I’d have caught up with them.”
      “I can't count on that! I told Yi to bump up the schedule for getting the shuttle ready to go into a countdown. Hustle your ass down to Williams and keep an eye on things. I want to be ready to lift off in a month.”
      “You’ve gotta be kidding! In a month? My men and I are ready anytime, but that shuttle needs a lot of work!”
      Blue leaned forward and leaned on his spread palms on the desk. “We have to get the power turned off right away, before they think we can. We can’t take a well-defended space station. It’s that simple.” Blue used his hands to push himself to his feet. He chuckled. “If it’s not ready on time, you and your men can finish it on the way up. As long as we stay a step ahead of them, we can conquer Freestate by catching them without the power to run their fancy weaponry. They’ll be busy trying to convert their computers to steam power.”

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