Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kratocracy - Ch. 6

The three shallow-draft Spearhead class vessels sped towards the beach at a blistering 40 knots.  Their catamaran hulls cut like twin daggers through the choppy waves off the coast of southeast Georgia.  The stormy starless sky and sideways-blown rain was the perfect cover for the high speed vessels, but it would be a formidable foe for the men and equipment in their bays.
The three vessels gradually slowed to a stop over five miles from the distant beach.  As the vessels ceased their forward motion and began to bob in the waves, a pair of Apache Longbows ascended from the outer two vessels and tilted forward as they accelerated to the west; the rhythmic whoof, whoof, whoof of their blades slowly faded into the distance.  In less than ten minutes they had reached the tiny island.  By minute fifteen they had located and neutralized multiple belligerents across the haven, otherwise known to those in the swiftly disappearing free world as civilians.  By minute twenty they had encircled the islet and established their beachhead for the remaining members of their unit.
The island had been mostly uninhabited due to the limited access from the mainland.  The few stalwart individuals that had managed an existence on the retreat had faired relatively well compared to the people that had remained in Brunswick.  The island dwellers had established a series of barriers on the bridge between the mainland and their enclave that had been impenetrable to any wayfarers, at least until now.
The men inside the Amphibious Assault Vehicles, or AAVs, were not marines or sailors; they weren’t technically even soldiers.  Regardless of what they were, they were definitely not trained for missions that involved such violent weather on the open seas.  While the large ramps on the outside two transport vessels slowly folded down, the last of the men scrambled to the backs of the few AAVs that still remained open.  Once the ramps opened completely, the ten AAVs plunged into the chilly water and began the slow trek through the raging tempest to the distant shore.
The AAVs rocked violently back and forth and were haplessly tossed up and down as they labored through the torturous weather.  Many of the men held their heads in their hands and closed their eyes tightly, trying in vain to maintain their composure.  Several men, unable to fight the sickening feeling any longer, groaned and retched on the floor at their feet.  A few of the men had already decided that they would surely die in the steel tomb, less than five miles from the safety of the shore.
Nearly twenty minutes after the AAVs had burst forth from the bays of the two outside transports and braved the sea the final vessel opened its bay door.  A prodigious swarm of bird-sized unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or drones, pressed out into the night as they honed in on the beacon coming from the Apache choppers.  Immediately thereafter a legion of larger, well-armed drones poured out of the large opening in the vessel in quick pursuit of their smaller cousins.  The loud buzz of the vast host was like the sound of a thousand hornet’s nests angrily emptying out into the stormy night; despite the crashing waves and rumbling thunder, the noise was domineering. 
As the throng of near-sentient thralls of tyranny disappeared into the night, the final component of the expedition prepared for flight.  The four man flight crew lifted the Blackhawk helicopter off of the center transport’s landing pad and began to ferry the twelve passengers the short distance to their new base of operations. 
The Blackhawk’s passengers were not like the men that were tossed amongst the angry waters in the AAVs; they were not militarized federal agents from the Department of Domestic Protection or other federal agencies that were simply anxious for a fight against the belligerents.  The passengers were also not like the soldiers that piloted the Blackhawk or the Apaches, or the sailors that manned the transport vessels; they were not military men that had forgotten the second component of the first clause of their oath of enlistment:  "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  The passengers aboard the Blackhawk were from the Special Operations Unit of the Gladius Group, an elect group from within the ranks the global, private military contracting force that had once fought for dozens of regimes across the globe, now nationalized after its founder was accused by the Federal government of funding the recent terror attacks that had shocked the nation.  If they were asked, the dozen men on the chopper would say that they did not care what agency or regime they were ultimately responsible to, so long as they were paid handsomely and in a currency that would not easily be inflated away by an economy rotting from within.
After a grueling forty minute voyage through the tempestuous waters, the tracks of the AAVs caught traction in the shifting sands of the shallow waters just off the shore and roared out of the surf and onto the beach.  The tracks churned through the thick growths of sea oats and beach grass that grew all along the wide, sandy waterfront.  The beach’s vegetation had spread surprisingly fast in the last several months due to the absence of the privileged sun worshippers that once flocked to the pristine and exclusive shores.
The Blackhawk and Apache choppers waited patiently overhead for their slower earthbound team members to reach the rally point.  The legion of drones hovered in perfect formation several hundred off the coast, waiting for their next command.  The choppers watched as the company of agents plowed through several hundred feet of thick undergrowth before emerging on the edge of Beachview Drive.  Upon reaching the highway, the AAVs turned north and dashed up the narrow, two-lane road until they reached Fortson Parkway.  As they veered west and sped down the parkway, two astonished men stepped out of the dense forest onto the shoulder of the road to see what manner of intruders had invaded their coastal enclave.  The front two AAVs spotted the men almost immediately and simultaneously rotated their Browning .50 caliber machine guns toward them.  The men tried in vain to dive back into the thicket but it was too late; the machine guns erupted with a short burst of fire and cut the men down where they lay.  The vehicles continued on for a short ways before turning north on Riverview Drive to the Jekyll Island Club with their air support following close overhead.
The irony was lost on the men that the first undeniably overt blow from the iron fist of tyranny in the twenty-first century would occur on the same unassuming island so full of intrigue that birthed its corrupt nature into existence in the century prior.  Once reserved for southern aristocracy, the island would now be used by a new privileged class; the aristocrats of authoritarianism.
The Blackhawk landed in the center of the west lawn of the Crane Cottage, a sprawling Italian Renaissance inspired palazzo.  The palazzo was approximately one hundred thirty feet wide and only slightly rectangular in shape.  The large cottage was an architectural work of art; the white-washed exterior walls were adorned with sweeping arches that accented the veranda on either side of the main entrance.  The place would have fit in perfectly if it had overlooked a sprawling vineyard from atop some dusty Tuscan hillside rather than overlooking a lazy, brackish marshland.  The elegant arches afforded a wide balcony for the second floor on the front of the cottage; the large balcony on the front was complimented by several smaller outcroppings on the sides and rear as well.  The red tile roof was the culmination of the functional masterpiece and when combined with all of the other features, transformed the island from antebellum charm to old world nobility.
Special Agent Freeman stepped out of the chopper and over the three bodies that lay face down on the nearby pavement, victims of the Apache’s flyover from earlier.  He spoke into helmet microphone that protruded in front of his mouth, “Apache One.”
“Go ahead sir.”
“Send the flock of hawks out over the island.  Have them scour every inch for anyone else that might be out there.”
“Roger, sir.”
The larger, armed drones ascended skyward and then dispersed in every direction on their search and destroy mission.  With a few swift keystrokes, the pilot had entered the six GPS coordinates of the boundaries along the irregularly shaped island and had chosen the parameters for the freestyle patrol.  The dozen hawk class drones would scatter evenly across the island and patrol their respective zones; their locations and data collection would be shared in real-time with each other and the commanding pilot.  In this particular freestyle patrol, the hawks would engage any heat source on the island larger than one hundred pounds and not tagged as an ally; if a drone discovered multiple targets and determined that the threat was more than it could safely engage, it would request support from its nearest companions.  At that point, the size of the patrol zones would enlarge to account for the loss of the nearby drones and the remaining hawks would in turn patrol the abandoned areas until the support drones returned.
Freeman watched as the drones disappeared into the storm that had beset them before turning back and nudging the one of the bodies with his boot.  The rain was torrential but he did not seem to notice.  He walked back to the Blackhawk and climbed back in as he continued to issue orders.
“Agent Graham.”
“Go ahead Agent Freeman.”
“First off, call me Freeman.  I wasn’t an agent before my company was nationalized; I was a soldier, I killed people for a living.”
“Divide into groups of ten and clear the cottage and surrounding buildings.”
“Yes sir.”
“Once the cottage is clear, locate the control room and see if the old backup generators are still in place.  If they are, try to get them up and running.  If they won’t work, hook two of our generators into the system.”
“Yes sir.”
“Get moving, I want the place up and running in thirty minutes.”
“Yes sir!”
After several moments Freeman watched as teams of men fanned out from the AAVs to the nearby buildings.  Satisfied with the men’s quick execution, he turned his attention elsewhere.
“Longbow One.”
“Go ahead Freeman.”
“Have the hawks found anyone yet?”
“Nothing yet sir.”
“How many did you locate during your patrol?”
“Maybe twenty; neutralized them all.”
“I would have thought there would be more people out here.”
“They would need to establish themselves and live primarily off of the land.  I imagine the few supplies that were on the island were consumed quickly.  There may have been more people originally, but they have probably long since died or left.”
“There’s more; keep looking.”
“Can you send me the live feed from the hawks?”
“I should be able to.”
“Send it to my tablet.”
Freeman and the other men in the Blackhawk watched the blues, greens and yellows from the dozen thermal feeds for several minutes as the rain battered the ground outside of the chopper.  Several shots rang out from somewhere in the darkness; they were rapid and without retort.  Freeman spoke into the microphone again, “Somebody update me.”
After several moments Agent Graham replied, “Male and female occupants located in the building just northeast of the Crane Cottage, sir; target neutralized.”
“Good job; continue.”
Freeman and the men from the Gladius Group returned their gazes to the tablet to follow the progress of the drones as they dissected the island.  Occasionally shots would be heard again from the nearby by buildings and he would radio for an update.  After a while, it sounded less like murder and more like orders being read off to a short order cook by a dispassionate waitress: 
“Two males and a female in the mansion to the north.” 
“Old man and woman in the chapel just east of your location, Freeman.”
“A whole heap of kids in the warehouse on Old Village Boulevard.”
Freeman’s reply was the same nearly every time, “Good job, continue.”
His response deviated only once during the extermination:
“Found a group of half-starved women in the museum, can we keep a few Freeman?”
“We’re not here for a bachelor party; drop ‘em.”
After the teams completed their sweeps, they began to radio back that their areas were deemed clear.  Upon the final notice, he ordered the teams back to the front lawn of the Crane Cottage.  As the teams began to filter back in, one of the twelve tiny thermal video feeds on the tablet’s screen lit up with a large blob of red and orange activity far below the drone.  “This should get interesting,” Freeman exclaimed.
The men watched as three other drones left their patrol zones to aid the hawk that spotted the activity.  After a few moments, the support UAVs became visible on the original drone’s feed as they hovered below it.  Several bright red streaks shot forth from the drones toward the group on the ground; in several short moments the rockets connected with their targets in a vivid and stunning display of colors.  Freeman and the others erupted into howls of approval as they watched scene unfold on the video. 
As the last of the search teams arrived back at their location, the lights in the Crane Cottage flickered to life and illuminated the front lawn.  Freeman turned to his associated in the chopper and said, “I need four of you to set up a checkpoint on the bridge that leads onto the island.”  He paused as he motioned to the returning teams and then continued, “I’d send some of the grunts, but I need to have a word with them first.”
“No problem; we’ll go.”
“Thanks guys; it’ll only be a few minutes.”
As his associates stepped out of the Blackhawk to commandeer one of the AAVs, Freeman turned on his radio and said, “Agent Graham.”
“Go ahead Freeman.”
“Have your men rally in the Crane Cottage; I want to have a few words with everyone.”
Freeman returned to the live feeds for several more minutes as the agents from the Department of Domestic Protections, or DDP and several other agencies filtered into the building.  Finally, he tossed the small but powerful military grade device on the seat beside him and stepped out of the chopper and into the storm.  He jogged the short distance to the cottage with his remaining colleagues from the Gladius Group close behind him.
Agent Graham was waiting with the entrance door open for Freeman and his associates as they reached it.  They dashed out of the rain and down the hall into the state room where the nearly one hundred men waited for his address.  Freeman’s senses were immediately assaulted by the stale air and a strong stench of mildew.  Several summer months of blistering South Georgia heat and humidity had caused the walls and floors to sweat relentlessly; the conditions had apparently been perfect for the culturing of various molds and other microbes.
Despite the unpleasant odor, the interior of the villa remained opulent and visually stunning, if only slightly dusty.  The hardwood flooring and exposed wooden beams were the perfect complement to the rustic wrought-iron chandeliers and sconces.  Several of the men in the room had just managed to ignite a fire in the hearth with the aged logs that were dutifully waiting on the floor beside it.  The flames cast long shadows across the room as they danced playfully on the meticulously split oak.  The ambience from the fire seemed to relax the men and raise their spirits as the memories of the tumultuous trip to the shore was burned from their minds.
Freeman strode purposefully through the crowd to the hearth and turned to face the men; the flames illuminated the silhouette of his powerfully built-frame, magnifying his already imposing presence.  The murmuring crowd yielded the floor to the colossal figure in front of them as he removed his helmet and cleared his throat in preparation of addressing them.
“Gentlemen, greetings.  I understand you were given very little notice of this operation and some of you were given none at all; we received the same treatment as all of you.  Because of that, we’ve had little time for introductions.  For those that have not met me yet, I am formally known as Special Agent Freemen.  As I told Agent Graham earlier, I am not a special agent, so don’t refer to me as such. 
Before Gladius was acquired by our illustrious government, I was a soldier, or perhaps warrior is a better term.  I killed people for a living and it didn’t matter who my client was.  I’ve fought for our government in more durka-durkastan hellholes than I can even count, much less remember.  I’ve also waged wars of attrition using brutal, third-world tactics that sought as much collateral damage as physically possible.  I’ve guarded foreign dignitaries and assassinated foreign dignitaries – sometimes performing both on the same man within six months’ time.  I’ve done all this and more for various governments and entities all across the globe including: Belize, Colombia, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Laos, Burma, Cambodia and dozens of others but I won’t force you to suffer through them all with me.
Now before you gasp in righteous indignation and call me a traitor to the motherland, let me tell you this:  most of those soirees were under the auspices of many of the agencies represented in front of me, including the CIA and NSA.  So don’t look down your clean noses at me because you think I’m some soldier of fortune who’s loyalty is subject to change with the breeze and you’re better than that because you get a check every two weeks from the government and you have – excuse me – had a tidy little government pension.  Because the truth is, boys, I’m no different than you.”
The crowd’s reactions varied from confused to irritated to incensed.  Freeman paused for a moment to let an uncomfortable silence settle on the room before continuing.
“It appears I’ve succeeded in offending most everyone here; excellent.  That’s something else you need to know about me; you’re going to hate me.  Every day I’m going to make it my goal to wake up and try my best to effectively piss you off; not you as a group, I mean you, fat cheeks on the front row and you with the lazy eye beside him.  And if you don’t like it, I’ll have you shipped back to Washington on a court-martial for insubordination.
This hate I’m going to instill in you though, it’s not without reason; I’m not a sadist.  I don’t derive pleasure from inflicting injury on others, not usually at least.  I’ll be riding you like a donkey because happy little government workers won’t accomplish what we need here.
The mainland of Brunswick and St. Simons are a seething axis of insurrection.  They’ve been killing men like you for fun; they’ve been killing men like you because you’re the enemy.  That’s why I want your chests to be on fire with hate when you go in there; I want you to have a chip on your shoulder that makes you crack heads and throw lead if someone looks at you the wrong way.  I want a team of jackbooted thugs - if you can pardon my dramatic prose - that will crush this resistance under their heels.
Washington is preparing an offensive that will take back the Eastern Seaboard and then move inland.  In the next several days, at least a dozen teams like us will be inserted into areas all along the East Coast.  We are the tip of the spear though, the first boots on the ground; I am here because I am the best at what I do.  You are here with me because someone thought the same of you.  Every move we make here will be scrutinized by teams of so-called, has-been experts in boardrooms across Washington, Langley and Arlington.  Our successes will be analyzed and replicated by other teams; our failures will be counted against us and will ultimately result in our removal from the operation.  If you haven’t noticed, our government isn’t very understanding of those that can’t deliver the results it needs right now.  I aim to be simulated, duplicated and imitated from Jekyll Island to Brunswick, Maine.  We’re going to crush a revolution, and it’s going to be so much fun.”

Novel Update

I'm at 36K of what will probably be a 50K word sequel to the Western Front.  I've gotten rather busy at work so that is hurting progress, but slowly the book is getting done.  5 Chapters to go and I'll be done.